Baltimore stadium plans match what Tagliabue likes

March 22, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

KONA, Hawaii -- Commissioner Paul Tagliabue outlined his vision of the perfect football stadium for the 1990s yesterday: an open-air stadium seating 65,000 to 72,000 with a large-screen television on the scoreboard.

While wrapping up the National Football League's annual March meeting, Tagliabue said stadiums seating much more than 72,000 are no longer in favor. He mentioned Miami's 73,000-seat Joe Robbie Stadium, which opened in 1987, as the ideal.

What Tagliabue described is similar to the football stadium for which Baltimore has the funding. It will be built next to the new baseball stadium in Camden Yards if the city gets an expansion team.

Baltimore officials haven't decided whether to put a dome over the stadium. Although Tagliabue said he doesn't object to domed stadiums -- he called the new domed stadium being constructed in Atlanta "terrific" -- he said he likes open-air stadiums.

"If the weather is good, the open-air stadium has a lot to commend it. In Atlanta, they needed to go to the dome because it was part of their convention complex in terms of financing it," he said.

Asked whether he would like a dome in a city such as Baltimore, which has some cold weather, he said, "From a personal standpoint, I think it's fun to go to cold-weather football games, except if it's Saskatoon."

Tagliabue also said there is a feeling that smaller is better in football stadiums.

"I think there's more sentiment now in the league for smaller stadiums than for big stadiums. Really, the big stadium is becoming regarded as a negative," he said.

Explaining the preference for smaller stadiums, he said, "I think that people feel the design of the smaller stadium can be somewhat more attractive. If you're thinking of 65,000, 70,000, 72,000, you can really have a very well-designed stadium. The feeling is that, overall, the stadium in the range from 65,000 to 72,000 may be optimum for most of our cities, as opposed to the 80,000-seat stadium."

He noted that it is more difficult to sell season tickets in a bigger stadium and that the sightlines are better in a smaller stadium.

"Fans are willing to pay more for good sightlines and comfort rather than to just be there with a telescope," he said.

Tagliabue said there has been a change in thinking within the league about stadiums in the past decade.

"The approach of the '70s was to make them bigger. The approach now is to design them for comfort and fan service," he said.

He said the league is even thinking of requiring every team in the league to have large-screen televisions for the fans.

"It's an area of fan service in the stadium. There are a lots of things you can do to make Sunday a real football happening if you have those screens there. In fan service, it's a very different set of things today than it was 10 or 15 years ago," Tagliabue said.

Before ending the meeting, Tagliabue told the owners they will get a full report on expansion at the May meeting in Minneapolis.

Tagliabue also said he hasn't set the date for the next meeting of the expansion and realignment committee in late April or early May. The committee will then report to the owners in late May in Minneapolis, but he's not sure yet if they'll vote at that time whether or not to go ahead with expansion in 1993.

Tagliabue also called this week's session a "good meeting," even though he has been the target of much criticism for his

handling of the 1993 Super Bowl, which was awarded to Phoenix last March and yanked this week because Arizona voters turned down a paid holiday for state workers in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Tagliabue, who said early in the week that there was nothing wrong with the NFL's handling of the situation, came close to conceding yesterday that the league might have made a mistake in awarding the game to Phoenix in the first place.

The NFL assumed that voters would approve the holiday and got itself thrust into the middle of the election fight. The league also has found itself being tagged as hypocritical because of its record on minority hiring.

Tagliabue said that in the future if the league "sees a political cloud on the horizon with a potential Super Bowl city, maybe you table the presentation of that city."

"One thing we've learned is to be more conservative," Tagliabue said.

He also said he will use fines against teams -- taking it out of their television money -- to enforce new rules against all demonstrations on the field, including the "Ickey shuffle" in the bench area.

Sam Wyche, the Cincinnati Bengals' coach, immediately said the team might counter by showing videotapes of old shuffles on the television screen in the stadium.

Tagliabue also said the league wants to limit the bench area to authorized personnel. He cited the example of Bo Jackson's children, who joined him on the bench when he was hurt in a playoff game.

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