Belgrad: Orioles could share park for while

May 23, 1991|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Evening Sun Staff

MINNEAPOLIS -- The expansion hopefuls lined up like pitchmen at a carnival yesterday.

Arthur "Chick" Sherrer bragged that Jacksonville could issue game-day checks for more than $1 million each to visiting NFL teams at the Gator Bowl.

Mark Richardson drew a circle around Charlotte, N.C., and pulled out numbers that show real regional drawing power for a Carolina team.

Not to be outdone, Herb Belgrad pulled numbers out of his head that said Baltimore has the highest median household income of any prospective expansion city. The numbers? Thirty-five percent of Baltimore's population has a median income of more than $55,000, and 50 percent earns more than $37,000.

Once the NFL owners committed yesterday to a two-team expansion in 1994, these guys began earnestly hawking the merits of their respective ZIP codes.

It was against that carnival-like backdrop that Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, offered the Orioles' new ballpark in Camden Yards as a possible temporary home for a would-be Baltimore NFL franchise.

"In our lease with the Orioles, we have the right to use the new stadium at Camden Yards during the period of construction of the football stadium," he said.

Belgrad said he viewed the baseball park as an alternative, or contingency, stadium in the event Memorial Stadium no longer was available. A Memorial Stadium Task Force has recommended that the Orioles' current stadium be demolished in 1995.

Putting football in the Orioles' stadium would be a "much more expensive option," Belgrad said, because it would require some significant alterations. The stadium authority would be required to return the field and stands to "equivalent condition" for the Orioles.

What makes the baseball park attractive, though, is its premium seating. There will be 4,500 club seats and 72 sky suites in the baseball stadium, a significant source of revenue that would be attractive to NFL owners.

The baseball park will seat 47,000, but with the renovations for football, the capacity would be much less. Just as at Memorial Stadium, Baltimore might be required to offer attendance guarantees there.

Belgrad said architects were already at work trying to come up with a configuration that would allow football to be played in what was a baseball-only stadium.

Belgrad also defended Baltimore's stance of not aligning itself with any prospective owner.

"It's very risky to tie yourself to a particular owner of an expansion group," he said. "My view is that St. Louis and Charlotte are taking risks we are not ready to take."

St. Louis has an ownership group in place headed by Jerry G. Clinton, president of Grey Eagle Distributors; Francis W. Murray, minority owner of the New England Patriots; former NFL great Walter Payton; and St. Louis investment mogul James B. Orthwein.

Charlotte's prospective ownership team is headed by former Colts receiver Jerry Richardson, a restaurant magnate.

The NFL has told the expansion hopefuls it will select the city first, and the owner second. Ironically, Baltimore had been considered a virtual lock for expansion when New York businessman Robert Tisch was fronting for the city. Last February Tisch bought 50 percent of the New York Giants.

Richardson's son Mark attended yesterday's meetings after making a presentation in Los Angeles Tuesday for hosting World Cup soccer matches. One of his selling points in L.A. was the fact that Charlotte can draw from a population of 5.5 million in a 100-mile radius, and from 9.69 million in a 150-mile radius.

Belgrad countered that Baltimore can draw from a population of 2.3 million in a 25-mile radius.

Meanwhile, Sherrer, the president of Touchdown Jacksonville Inc., said his group's financial package will pay visiting teams more than $1 million.

"If economics are important, we're a strong candidate," Sherrer said.

Sherrer recently enlisted the help of Spectacor Management Group to locate a primary investor.

"We never claimed we could write a $125-, or $150 million check [for the franchise fee]," Sherrer said. "When the corporation was formed, the idea was to bring a lead investor in at the right time. We purposely made that our last piece."

A key part of the Jacksonville package is that there will be no stadium debut service at the Gator Bowl, and all revenue, including club seats, will go to the team. Touchdown Jacksonville already has negotiated a 30-year lease that will cost the team $500,000 in annual rent for the stadium.

Sherrer said a recent study showed that the NFL would have a $131 million economic impact on the community.

On the drive for an expansion team, Sherrer said, "There are no B's in this course."

And very little modesty.

*

In other action, the league made a move designed to let an "emergency quarterback" participate in game situations if a team's top two QBs both go down with injuries in the same game. Normally, a team carries 47 players and designates two of them -- generally including the team's No. 3 quarterback -- as inactive one hour before gametime.

The new rule will let that No. 3 quarterback play if the first two get hurt, with the provision that neither one of the top two QBs can re-enter that game.

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