NFL may want city to exhibit support

May 24, 1991|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Evening Sun Staff

MINNEAPOLIS P — MINNEAPOLIS -- The Maryland Stadium Authority has steered clear of hosting NFL preseason games in Baltimore for two principal reasons:

(1) The city has a proven track record for supporting the Colts during their glory years;

(2) Because the authority wants to conserve its resources within the business community.

Now perhaps the authority will have to re-examine its position on preseason football.

Two NFL executives who requested anonymity suggested yesterday that the city might enhance its chances of gaining one of two expansion franchises in 1994 by holding an exhibition game at Memorial Stadium. One, in fact, speculated that hosting a game could become part of the criteria that will be established this summer by the league's expansion committee.

Herb Belgrad, chairman of the authority, said the possibility of having a preseason game has been "considered very seriously," but thus far been rejected for the above reasons.

"Part of the decision [not to host a game] rests on economics," he said. "The owners want [financial] guarantees, and that means we need commitments from the business community.

"My concern is we go back to the same corporations, the same individuals. They pledged to the Orioles, and prior to that, there was a commitment to the St. Louis Cardinals. The same groups responded both times.

"So I don't think it's in our best interests to continue to take advantage of the good will of the people who've been most supportive."

Baltimore talked with Kansas City officials two years ago about hosting a game between the Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings. When Baltimore balked, the Chiefs took the game to Memphis.

Hosting preseason games has become a way of life in cities like Memphis and Jacksonville. Now it's catching on in cities like St. Louis and Charlotte. All four will host games in a three-week period next August. All preseason games for 1991 are set.

The real game is filling up stadiums as a way of showing support for the NFL, which, incidentally, makes a buck or two off the games.

Jacksonville hosts its fifth game in five years on Aug. 3, featuring the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams. A week later, the Kansas City Chiefs play the New York Jets at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, which is hosting a game for the second straight year.

On Aug. 22, it will be the Rams and Houston Oilers at Memphis' Liberty Bowl. That will be the fourth exhibition game put on by Mid-America Football Inc., which is trying to secure a team for Memphis. Then, on Aug. 24, Charlotte will host a game between the Washington Redskins and Jets at 72,400-seat Williams- Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C. It will be Charlotte's third game in three years.

"Charlotte and St. Louis are entirely different situations," Belgrad said. "Charlotte is trying to demonstrate it can support the NFL. In St. Louis, they're trying to demonstrate that it wasn't St. Louis, but the ownership of the franchise that brought about low attendance there.

"In Baltimore, we don't have to overcome the attendance problem that St. Louis had. We have a history and tradition that no other expansion contender has. We sold out our stadium for 61 straight games. And we demonstrated through the Orioles, when they finished last in their division, that we still can generate close to 2 million in attendance.

"So . . . we made the decision that it does not serve our purpose to divert time, energy and resources to preseason games when our first priority is to make a strong presentation to the NFL."

Belgrad feels Baltimore's support of the Orioles should speak for itself.

"Another reason we don't have exhibition games is that the Maryland Stadium Authority, unlike other cities, is responsible for building and opening the new baseball stadium [at Camden Yards]," he said. "That has to be a priority. That and the [1993 major-league] All-Star Game."

NOTES: In a mild upset, the NFL owners awarded Super Bowl XXIX in 1995 to Miami (its seventh Super Bowl) and Joe Robbie Stadium (its second). Houston, the favorite going in, lost in four ballots. Tampa Bay also was considered. Because Miami had a better financial package, Houston's Jon Lindsay, a Harris County judge, said greed was the NFL's determining factor.

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