Sen. Gore wants meeting with Tagliabue to discuss expansion limits

May 24, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

MINNEAPOLIS ..HC EPB — MINNEAPOLIS -- As the contending cities start lobbying for the two expansion teams the National Football League plans to award next year, one senator wants to find out why the league is limiting its expansion to only two teams.

Roy Neel, the chief of staff for Sen. Albert Gore (D-Tenn.), said yesterday from his Washington office that the senator plans to schedule a meeting with commissioner Paul Tagliabue on the subject of expansion.

"The first thing we want to explore with them is why only two teams," Neel said.

Gore hopes to get a team for Memphis, one of the major contenders with Baltimore, St. Louis, Charlotte and Memphis. Sacramento, Oakland and San Antonio also are expected to bid for teams.

Neel added that Sen. Gore plans to meet with other senators from states hoping to get expansion teams and added that Congress isn't likely to pass legislation favorable to the NFL until it expands by more teams.

"You can bet that the league is going to be hard-pressed in getting concessions from Congress on antitrust measures until Congress is satisfied that expansion is on track," he said.

The league has an antitrust exemption to pool its television revenue. Neel said Gore will follow more closely any attempts by the NFL to take games off free television.

"He may introduce his own legislation regarding that matter," he said.

The usual explanation for the league's reluctance to expand -- it has added only two teams since the 1970 merger -- is that the owners are reluctant to split the television revenue more than 28 ways.

But Tagliabue didn't mention that factor yesterday in explaining why the league is expanding by only two teams to reach 30.

"I think the feeling is a league with six divisions of five teams offers a lot of advantages from a competitive standpoint. People feel it's ideal. I think a two-team expansion is felt to be the most sensible in terms of player talent that's available," he said.

Meanwhile, the cities that want the two teams will step up their lobbying as they wait for guidelines from the league. Tagliabue said the new expansion committee will meet in late June or early July.

Herbert Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, left yesterday in an upbeat mood as the two-day meeting came to a close. He said Baltimore has made strides in preparing its bid and ranks in the top two in all the criteria.

"You'd be surprised at how far that we've come already," he said.

He said, among other things, an independent consulting firm has already conducted a phone study showing Baltimore could sell 400,000 tickets for an expansion team.

Of the major contenders, Baltimore and St. Louis have public funding for new stadiums, Charlotte, N.C., proposes to build one with private financing and Memphis and Jacksonville, Fla., plan to use existing stadiums, although Jacksonville plans a major renovation of its stadium.

One question is whether Charlotte investors can get the private financing to build the stadium and buy the team. The total cost could be more than $300 million.

The late Joe Robbie used private financing to build a stadium in Miami although he had the advantage of already owning the team. His son, Tim, who now runs the team, said yesterday said he doesn't know if the feat can be duplicated.

Robbie said: "It'd be very, very difficult. My father was a very strong-willed individual. I think without his perseverance, it would never have been done and I'm not sure anyone will ever do it again."

There was another example yesterday that the cities that offers the NFL the best deal are likely to get the teams. In the voting for the 1995 Super Bowl, Miami, which has held six Super Bowls, upset Houston, which has held only one and felt it deserved one after it spent $70 million renovating the Astrodome.

Although Tagliabue said seating wasn't a major factor, Houston officials felt Miami got the nod because Joe Robbie Stadium holds 75,000 for a Super Bowl and the Astrodome can be enlarged to only 67,500.

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