3 more owners join NFL bid here

August 09, 1991|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Evening Sun Staff Jon Morgan contributed to this story.

A month before applications are due from potential NFL expansion cities, Baltimore's paperwork still is conspicuous for the absence of an identifiable owner.

The void left by the departure of Robert Tisch to the New York Giants last winter remains a source of concern and, in some cases, a cause for pessimism.

Raymond "Chip" Mason is not caught up in that wave of negativism, though.

"Right now I'm encouraged," Mason, chairman of the Greater Baltimore Committee's NFL expansion committee, said yesterday. "We're seeing some good interest. I was more discouraged 90 days ago than in the last 30. We've come a long way in the last 30 days."

Mason takes his encouragement from the fact that in recent weeks representatives from at least three new groups have contacted Herb Belgrad of the Maryland Stadium Authority about ownership of an NFL franchise.

Belgrad declined to identify any of the groups, saying they each have requested confidentiality. It's believed that one group is headed by Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, owner of Merry-Go-Round Enterprises Inc., who had expressed interest in purchasing the Orioles. Weinglass was not available to comment yesterday, however.

There are three known groups in the hunt for Baltimore's would-be franchise. They are led by Bethesda real estate developer Nathan Landow, Baltimore Blast owner Edwin Hale and former Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr.

"We have at least six groups actively pursuing ownership," Belgrad said. "I can't say if all six have decided to file an application."

That's where this gets sticky.

The deadline for prospective cities to file applications is Sept. 16. Cities are asked to list potential ownership groups and supply pertinent information.

Prospective owners must file a separate application by Oct. 1. In an attempt to hold down the number of applicants for the two expansion teams, which the NFL plans to announce by the fall of 1992, the NFL has requested a $100,000 filing fee from each ownership group. Only $50,000 of that is refundable.

"That application fee really does determine whether you're in for the long haul or not," said Phyllis Brotman, local businesswoman and spokeswoman for the Starr group.

John Colbrunn, a retired economics professor at the Air Force Academy and the "numbers man" in the Starr group, said the $100,000 fee makes sense for a Baltimore application.

"If we're applying for Baltimore, I have no qualms because Baltimore is going to get a team," he said. "If it's any other city, I would not apply."

Still, Hale isn't sure he will apply. He has been occupied with a proxy fight for control of Baltimore Bancorp and with the tenuous existence of the Major Soccer League, of which his Blast is a member.

"The timing couldn't be worse," he said. "I'm in no position to pursue it right now. When this [proxy fight] is over, I will. The chances of going forward in early September are very good. I want to pursue it."

What concerns Hale is the uncertain cost of the new franchises. Estimates range from $100 million to $200 million. A league spokesman said yesterday that the NFL's expansion committee will not set the cost of a franchise before the Oct. 1 deadline. For that reason, Hale likes the idea of merging assets with other groups.

Colbrunn also is concerned about a price tag of, say, $150 million.

"People better go buy 50 percent of some existing team like Tisch did if that's the case," he said. "That would be stretching the outer boundaries of fiscal sanity.

"If the price doesn't make economic sense, if all they're looking for is a rich owner to donate to the NFL, we probably won't be involved."

Tisch, a wealthy New York businessman who had aligned himself with Baltimore's expansion effort, purchased 50 percent of the Giants last February, leaving a large gap in Baltimore's plans. Charlotte, N.C., and St. Louis, Baltimore's two major contenders for the 1994 expansion, both have ownership groups in place.

Pessimism about the city's chances of getting a team is on the rise now in Baltimore's corporate community, according to several sources familiar with the effort.

Potential ownership is a major factor. And turmoil in the business community, with the departure of several high-profile civic leaders and the impact of the recession, appears to have further set back the city's efforts.

Winning a team would probably require a $500,000 to $1 million marketing campaign and a ticket guarantee similar to the one assembled for the Orioles. The recession and consolidation of local businesses has made both appear less likely, sources said.

"There is growing pessimism about the thing," said one official.

Said another, "Come the middle of September maybe a deal could be put together. It could happen very fast . . . But we don't have an owner now."

Said Mason, who is chief executive officer of Legg Mason Inc., "You couldn't be in the corporate community and not have some pessimism. The two big backers are USF&G and Maryland National, and neither will be in the picture in their present format."

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