City has too many men on NFL field

John Steadman

November 07, 1990|By John Steadman

Most sportswriters would have volunteered their services -- what the lawyers refer to as pro bono -- to assist the Maryland Stadium Authority in its latest quest to seek information that is already available. It's a ludicrous, almost redundant effort that merits questions of concern from the public, plus our office holders, because of the costs involved.

The Stadium Authority also has hired a public relations expert at $51,000 a year. Nothing wrong with that, except it already has an exceptionally knowledgeable employee named Ed Cline on its staff who handles the responsibilities exceedingly well.

Now Walter Gutowski, once the publicity director for the Baltimore Colts, is the newest addition. The major part of his job assignment is to help with the acquisition of a National Football League team. We'll all endorse and rejoice in the NFL returning to Baltimore.

Gutowski, personally, makes an impressive appearance, gets along well with his fellow man, is loyal to friends and endowed with exemplary human qualities. Additionally, within the last three months, he has passed the bar exam. It's easy to understand why Walter is considered an attractive acquisition, but is he absolutely necessary?

You also must wonder why Herb Belgrad, chairman of the authority, didn't hire him for his own law firm? The Gutowski appointment, even among his admirers, smacks of featherbedding.

The embarrassing title given Gutowski, through no fault of his, is "expansion public relations official," which may be difficult to fit on a business card. Hopefully, he'll find enough to do in the course of the day to make coming to the office worthwhile. But this isn't the only question that needs to be studied.

The Stadium Authority also has engaged the services of a consultant, one Gene McHale. Among other things, he is to probe for information on what other potential expansion cities are doing. But he has blown his cover. McHale is to be paid at the rate of $125 per hour. But much of what he'll set out to gather is available in press releases put out by St. Louis, Charlotte, Sacaramento, Memphis, Oakland and other interested communities.

It's standard practice to list population bases, television market numbers, economic conditions, stadium building plans and how much the business communities are willing to guarantee for advance ticket sales.

A previous survey, presumably by the same American Sports Associates and McHale, was based on what the baseball commissioner and football commissioner had to say about ballparks and NFL expansion efforts. It was the kind of pat information countless reporters had disseminated following repetitive interviews. Yet the same ground is being plowed.

But hold on. There's still more to come. Another group, Public Financial Management Inc., of Philadelphia, is studying whether a domed stadium is feasible on the Camden site. It's a little late for that. Of course, a domed stadium will go there -- as any fool would know.

To think otherwise is an absolute insult to the public. But in this connection, the Kansas City architectural firm of Hellmuth Obata & Kassabaum is doing a cost study of a domed stadium as opposed to an open-air facility. Another move that tells us the Stadium Authority lacks understanding of what is in the best interest of Maryland.

Why have a Stadium Authority if every time a decision is made there has to be a consultant hired? For what? To explain the sideline from the backline, or in the case of the baseball park, leftfield from rightfield. The Stadium Authority should issue updated figures on how much it has spent on surveys, starting with how it was determined to evict the rats from their apartments in the old Camden area buildings that were demolished.

Five years ago, Henry "Hank" Butta gathered contributions from the business/industrial community that provided all kinds of data pertinent to building stadia. Butta has the answers and he won't charge a consulting fee.

While they are at it, they can re-invent the wheel. Doesn't the Stadium Authority know enough about its assignment to make its own judgments? Or is it so lacking in depth of what it is supposed to be doing that it needs to engage other paid consultants to inform the current consultants that the NFL plays with an inflated spheroid?

Public confidence has been thrown for an expensive loss.

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