199,000 reasons why Baltimore should get team


September 18, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

The game begins. Baltimore has now entered its official application for an NFL expansion franchise. The 60-page report that accompanies the application is a winning compilation of analysis, statistics and, most persuasive, 8-by-12 color photos of league owners in compromising positions.

If this were just some ordinary report, with just the ordinarily wonderful stuff about our town and your typical glossies of owners in compromising positions, it would obviously be sufficient to secure Baltimore a team. But this one is so good that we're not going to get one lousy team -- we're going to get two.

That's right. There are two expansion franchises available from the generous boys of the NFL -- who have never failed to expand in the decade before a turn of the century -- and Baltimore is a lock to get them both. Sorry, Charlotte. Hasta luega, St. Louis. Memphis? You're kidding, right? We get both. I guarantee it.

All you have to do is read the report. It explains that the Greater Baltimore Committee commissioned a public-opinion firm to poll greater Baltimore in order to measure the degree of interest in a pro football team and how that might translate into ticket sales. Here's what the pollsters found (and I'm not making this up): The team could sell 199,000 tickets to each game.

To each game. That's a big number. To give you an idea, that's more people than Geraldo has slept with.

Not that this great rush of support wouldn't cause problems. For example, the number of fans would necessitate either a very large stadium or a very crowded one. I mean, how well do you really want to know your neighbor? And just imagine the size of the train you'd need for the new light rail to Camden Yards. The engine would arrive downtown before the caboose left Timonium.

It would be very festive, of course. You can picture everyone at the new stadium singing during one of your typically brief breaks for instant-replay decisions: "199,000 fans at the game, 199,000 fans. One fan goes, down through the rows, 198,999 fans at the game . . ."

But apparently we don't have room for a football stadium quite that big, since the Orioles, who draw a measly 30,000 a game, are insisting on moving to their stadium in Camden Yards, too. That's why we need the two teams, or else you've got 100,000-plus folks in a really bad mood every Sunday. Come to think of it, that's what we've got now.

OK, some people may question the 199,000 number. These are what we call skeptics. They're the ones who wonder where all these fans were when the Colts left town to begin with. They also doubt obvious things like the fact that aliens live in your TV set and that, if you play the new Guns N' Roses records backward, you'll hear, "Re-sign Glenn Davis; re-sign Glenn Davis" over and over again.

But I bring these doubters, and the folks from the NFL, assurances from Herb Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority. He's a good man, a pillar of the community and someone you can trust with a calculator. He says the 199,000 is a a conservative estimate. That figure, he said, is derived from only those polled who said they would definitely buy tickets or were extremely interested in buying tickets. If you added in people who were very interested or possibly interested, the number goes to 408,000 a game. Honest to God.

It makes you wonder how the question was worded. It could have been: "Would you be likely to buy a ticket to a pro football game in Baltimore if it also meant you could meet Boogie Weinglass personally?"

Anyway, the numbers are in. Now, we sit back and wait to see who ups the ante. I'm betting on Charlotte, the city that has redefined demographics.

Metropolitan areas are generally determined by how far you can go from the center city before people will not drive downtown for really good Chinese food.

Charlotte has its own criteria. According to these folks, greater Charlotte is anyplace that can be reached from downtown within three hours -- by jet.

People in the NFL have Charlotte as the hot city because it sells all those tickets to the Charlotte Hornets. Didn't anyone mention that basketball is a religion there? They'll sell out for basketball and for Billy Graham. That doesn't mean you've got to put your football team there.

I figure Charlotte officials, after reading this report, will claim they can sell a million tickets to each game. Ask them where all their fans are coming from, and they'll say, "Well, we got this charter from Baltimore. . ."

Look, Charlotte is a fine town, and you can get a beer any time you want in St. Louis. But, hey, 199,000 people a game in Baltimore. If that doesn't turn the heads of those NFL owners, I don't know what will. I'd say it has to make them look twice.

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