The identity of Baltimore's competition for an NFL expansion franchise came into sharp focus yesterday. Sacramento, Honolulu and Oakland swelled the ranks, but not the odds.
Although formal applications were filed by 11 cities, the short list of front-runners did not change appreciably.
The big three fighting for two teams in 1994 still appear to be Charlotte, St. Louis and Baltimore.
The list of applicants was fairly representative of the group of cities that have talked up expansion in recent years. In addition to the three favorites, those applying were Honolulu, Jacksonville, Memphis, Nashville, Oakland, Raleigh-Durham, Sacramento and San Antonio.
Most curious was the application of Raleigh-Durham, which seemingly clashes with that of Charlotte in North Carolina. Not necessarily so, said Max Muhleman, a sports marketing consultant for Jerry Richardson's interests in Charlotte.
"I think it's a fine exercise in local pride," said Muhleman, who has built Richardson's case around the concept of regionalization in the Carolinas.
"Is the best regional market centered in Raleigh or Charlotte? That's the question the NFL has to answer. We looked at the market and decided [Charlotte] is where it made sense. This calls attention to the regional strength of the market."
Muhleman said that by locating a team in Charlotte, the NFL could draw from a fan base that has 9.69 million people in a 150-mile radius. That radius includes Raleigh, as well as the third largest metropolitan market in the area, Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C. Raleigh's 150-mile radius, he said, would not touch South Carolina, however.
Raleigh is the home of North Carolina State University, whose Carter-Finley Stadium would serve as home stadium.
"We know Charlotte is a good market," said Don D'Ambrosi, director of planning for Envirotek Inc., which helped prepare Raleigh's application. "The great thing is that it sends a message to the NFL that North Carolina is a ripe market for an NFL franchise. That is healthy for everybody."
Similarly, Nashville has crowded Memphis' bid for a Tennessee franchise.
"Filing a community application is one thing," said Pepper Rodgers, one of the organizers in Memphis. "Coming up with $100,000 [for the owners' application] is another thing. Nashville has no stadium and no ownership."
Baltimore was one of three applicants who lost NFL teams, along with Oakland and St. Louis. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue ** has expressed his preference that the league expand into one city that previously had a franchise and into one new territory.
Which makes St. Louis the prime competition for Baltimore.
"St. Louis deserves a franchise when measured on objective criteria such as location, TV market, population and corporate presence," said Fran Murray, a member of the would-be ownership team in St. Louis and a minority owner with the New England Patriots. "In all these areas, St. Louis is better, or as good, as any named applicant."
The league's expansion committee is expected to reduce the field to a short list of candidates by March, and the two franchises tentatively will be awarded in October 1992.