World Cup finals could go to D.C. Decision hinges on new Redskins park

August 13, 1991|By Gary Davidson | Gary Davidson,Special to The Sun

WASHINGTON -- If Jack Kent Cooke gets his stadium, Washington gets the World Cup final -- that is the formula District of Columbia Cup organizers are following.

But Baltimore might not want to cheer Washington's bid for the title game.

Cooke, owner of the Washington Redskins, is planning to build a new, 78,600-seat stadium for his NFL team. At that capacity, Washington could qualify for the world's soccer championship game, something that RFK Stadium -- which would hold 60,000 for the game -- probably couldn't do.

If RFK Stadium were used in the proposal for games, the World Cup Washington Region bid committee will not seek the title contest, committee chairman John Koskinen said last week.

And Baltimore would benefit if the final game were played else where. Washington then would become a leading candidate for the opening game and ceremonies. As part of its bid for the opening game, the committee has proposed placing the attendant, weeklong Federation Internationale de Football Association Congress in Baltimore.

"It's a simple thing. With RFK, we can get the opening game. If we get a new stadium, we become a leading candidate to get the final," said Koskinen, co-owner of the Maryland Bays and vice chairman of the American Professional Soccer League.

With a suitable stadium, Washington stands a good chance of landing the World Cup final. Thirteen of the past 14 Cup title games have been played in the host country's capital.

Ross Berlin, senior vice president of World Cup '94, said: "It's a very strong bid. You're right on target [for Washington getting the title game]. If all the variables fall into place, [Washington] jumps to the forefront."

Though FIFA rules require only a 60,000-seat stadium for a final, the organization apparently is seeking larger-capacity sites, such as Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., said to be two of the strongest contenders for the game.

The conclusion of the lengthy negotiations between Cooke and Washington officials appears imminent, and Cooke said last week that the stadium -- scheduled to be ready for the 1993 NFL season -- would be completed "easily" in time for the World Cup (June 17 to July 17), and FIFA "will be assured" of that. FIFA is supposed to visit potential game sites in late October.

"No need for me to tell you the importance [of bringing the World Cup to Washington]," Cooke said. "It would have worldwide attention, and it would mean hundreds of millions of dollars to the District of Columbia."

FIFA officials in Zurich, Switzerland, declined to comment on the awarding of games.

The current Washington World Cup bid, which required a $157,549 deposit, requests the opening game and ceremonies, three first-round games and one match each in the round of 16, the quarterfinals and semifinals. An additional $103,000 is needed to bid for the final, something the Washington group plans to do once it feels certain the new stadium will be available. The deadline for title-game applications is in October.

Expecting at least five games to be played, Koskinen estimated $80 million to $100 million in revenue for the area, a figure that would increase to between $120 and $150 million if the championship were to be decided in Washington.

"Compared to what people pay for a Super Bowl, this is the best buy in the world," said Koskinen.

He calculated 10 to 15 percent of the financial windfall would go to the greater Baltimore area, which means the loss of $6 million to $10 million that the FIFA Congress could bring Baltimore would be offset if the final were played in Washington.

"But if I were Baltimore, I might still want the FIFA Congress because of the public relations and tourist value," said Koskinen. "If you get the final, you might get more dollars because of all the people traipsing around. But [the FIFA Congress] gives you a major international convention. In the long run, the congress gives you much greater recognition."

Maryland paid $30,000, the deposit required to bid on the opening game and ceremonies, for its involvement in the World Cup process. If the first match, which will feature reigning World Cup champion Germany, is played elsewhere, the money will be refunded to the state.

Josh Waldorf, a sports marketing specialist in the state Department of Economic and Employment Development, said his office originally sought World Cup games for Memorial Stadium and Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, but joined the regional movement when it was uncertain whether Memorial Stadium would be standing in 1994 and when it realized the Naval Academy would not be suitable.

"We would be delighted to get the finals, but until the [new] stadium is a reality, we'll continue with our current plans . . . for the opening game and FIFA Congress," Waldorf said. "This is a win-win situation. It's a pretty good deal for everybody."

Additionally, the University of Maryland is expected to become a major training and housing center during the monthlong tournament.

A decision on the eight to 12 sites to hold games is expected in December, "but could come in early 1992," said Jim Trekker, media relations director for World Cup USA. No deadline is set for the awarding of specific games, though Berlin said the decisions are certain to be made by June 1992.

Trekker warned against premature assumptions about the location of World Cup matches. "We haven't even chosen venues yet," he said. "We're nowhere near awarding games."

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