Fat Years at Memorial Stadium

August 29, 1991

In 1982, at Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams' request, the club quit paying the city a percentage of the gate receipts to lease Memorial Stadium and began a profit-sharing arrangement.

Why this novel arrangement? "The people of Baltimore will feel they have a much more tangible interest in the team," said Mr. Williams. He said it would "cement" the club's relationship to the city. Also, especially as payrolls and other expenses began to soar in the 1980s, it was conceivable under the traditional receipts-percentage arrangement that a team might draw well at the gate and still not make a profit. Thus a team could owe a bigger rental fee to the city than it felt it could afford.

So the new lease arrangement was in both parties' best interest.

As events turned out, there have been both fat and lean years. Two seasons produced no profits for the city to share; the Orioles got the stadium free. One year the city got only $33,365, a small fraction of what a standard percent-of-gate lease would have brought. But in 1989, when attendance soared to 2.5 million and other revenues also rose, the city got $5.2 million. Last year the city would have received even more, but the Orioles somehow convinced the city to calculate profits in an imaginative new way, reducing the city share to $1.8 million.

This year, as Mark Hyman reported in The Sun yesterday, the club has proposed to the city that it scrap the profit-sharing arrangement and accept a lump sum payment of about $3 million for 1991. Since profit-sharing properly calculated could be at least twice and perhaps three times that much, no such change should be contemplated. Having suffered through the lean years, city taxpayers have a right to enjoy the benefit of the fat ones.

Considering the way the city negotiating team gave away so much last year (behind closed doors; the exact details of the 1990 adjustments are still secret) and appears to be at least considering doing it again this year, we have to ask Mayor Kurt Schmoke Casey Stengel's immortal question, "Can't anybody here play this game?"

We also suggest to City Hall's team that if the Orioles owner, Eli Jacobs, or president, Larry Lucchino, offer to bring the Brooklyn Bridge into the negotiations, please be careful.

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