D.C. loss won't count in NFL standings here

Ken Rosenthal

June 06, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

Major-league owners can postpone their expansion vote six more times and Washington still won't get a team. Fear not: The inevitable disappointment in the nation's capital will have no impact on Baltimore's quest for an NFL franchise.

In fact, anyone who suggests that Washington's failure will be an omen for Baltimore is either delirious, or paranoid, or both. The sole cause for concern -- and it's a biggie -- is that the Orioles still would be the only game in either town.

Seriously, it makes no sense linking the expansion pursuits of the two cities. Even if major-league owners decided the Baltimore-Washington market couldn't support two clubs, it would be ridiculous for NFL owners to do the same.

Baseball teams play 81 home games.

Football teams play eight.

For all their claims of neutrality, the Orioles are justifiably concerned about an NL expansion club eroding their fan base in Washington 45 miles south. The Redskins, on the other hand, yawn at the prospect of the NFL returning to Baltimore.

The Redskins play in 54,907-seat RFK Stadium, and they've been sold out since 1966. Their waiting list for season tickets numbers more than 40,000. No wonder owner Jack Kent Cooke is anxious to move into a new stadium seating 72-78,000.

History tells us that football teams can exist simultaneously in both cities: The Baltimore Colts had a streak of 51 straight sellouts between 1964 and 1970. Attendance declined because of inept ownership, not shifting loyalties.

The Colts left after the 1983 season, but even today hardly anyone in Baltimore roots for the Redskins. Such is not the case with the Orioles in Washington, a two-time baseball loser. After years of marketing, the club claims 25 percent of its fans come from the D.C. area.

A different story, don't you think?

True, the Redskins voted against expansion two weeks ago at the NFL meetings in Minneapolis. But Cooke's son John, the club's executive vice president, said he simply questioned whether the timing was right, given the uncertainties of the league's collective-bargaining agreement.

The resolution passed 22-4-2. It states that the league will expand by two teams in 1994 if the labor situation is not perceived as an obstacle. Such language should have eased the Redskins' concerns, but it's senseless reading anything sinister into their vote.

The fact is, Jack Kent Cooke said he would endorse an NFL franchise in Baltimore when interviewed by a sports consulting firm on behalf of the Maryland Stadium Authority in 1986.

"He said he wasn't against having a team in Baltimore," recalled Gene McHale, president of American Sports Associates in Jericho, N.Y. "He said it was something he could support. From what I remember, he was very favorable toward it."

The kicker to all this is that the deciding factor against Washington in baseball won't be its proximity to Baltimore. No, the problem reportedly is its prospective ownership group's inability to provide adequate financing for a business with a startup cost of $95 million.

Those lucky Orioles.

They're off the hook.

New ownerships in Texas and Seattle borrowed heavily to meet their respective purchase prices. Neither club is considered solid financially, and major-league owners want to make certain their two new entries build sturdier foundations.

That might be one reason they postponed their expansion decision yesterday, just one week before its scheduled announcement. Miami, Denver and St. Petersburg are still considered the front-runners. As always, money is the only relevant issue.

The same will be true whenever the NFL decides to expand. Initially, the league said it would judge the merits of each individual city before considering potential ownerships, but who's kidding whom? It's simple business: No money, no team.

That's Washington's problem. One day, it might be Baltimore's too. But enough of the comparisons.

We're talking apples and oranges.

Baseballs and footballs.

Dollars and cents.

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