Ticket guarantee is NFL selling point

John Steadman

December 12, 1991|By John Steadman | John Steadman,NEW YORK

NEW YORK -- Confidence and elation prevail in the hearts, minds and expectations of the diverse Baltimore delegation that has mobilized its offense and increased the tempo to draw the favorable attention of the National Football League. A key part of the proposition, revealed for the first time, is a guarantee of season ticket sales.

Baltimore didn't attempt any power plays or razzle-dazzle. Only strong, irrefutable testimony to prove the right to being granted one of two expansion franchises to be awarded next October for eventually taking the field in 1994. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue steers the course and insists negotiations with the players association will not deter the process.

A new development also crystallized when The Evening Sun learned the league made it known if some different ownership groups surface with acceptable credentials, including proper financing, they would be welcome to join the contest and run in the race. This offers belated possibilities for Baltimore and all the others in the 10-city chase.

For the first time yesterday, the NFL heard from Matt DeVito, chairman of the Greater Baltimore Committee, who said the business community was prepared to substantially promise what it had earlier agreed to do in behalf of the Orioles. This translates to a $10 million ticket assurance for 10 years in the event public sales fail to reach those specified goals.

DeVito cited figures underlining a claim that an NFL club would have an $86 million economic impact on the community. There were arresting aspects to the Baltimore presentation that included a five-minute film documentary narrated by Lary Lewman and 40 colored slides about the new stadium project, the economic success of the Orioles and other pertinent data.

The movie's emotional highlight, ironically, was part of the acceptance speech Brooks Robinson gave upon entering the Baseball Hall of Fame, an occasion when he said, "I thank the Lord for giving me ability and for my family but also for giving me the chance to be in Baltimore." Lewman's closing line poignantly promised, "Give Baltimore the ball and we will give you NFL history."

Each potential ownership group had 15 minutes to discuss why it wanted an opportunity to buy an expansion club. The lineup of the three groups provided Baltimore a distinction none of the other nine contenders possess, which is perceived as an advantage since it enhances the contention of the intensity associated with the Baltimore bid. This is what informed observers, although in the minority, have been saying over the last two months -- and that it would be a major mistake at this time to summarily anoint one representative.

The leading candidates are the irrepressible Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, dressed for the occasion and looking elegant in suit, tie and ponytail; the profound Tom Clancy, who speaks as impressively as he writes; and soft-spoken Malcolm Glazer and sons Joel and Bryan.

A contrasting mix of personalities but all share an interest in restoring Baltimore to pro football. Herb Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority; Bruce Hoffman, executive director of the authority; and DeVito put the ball in the air, so to speak, and were on target as they enunciated Baltimore's impressive credentials for Tagliabue and his aides.

Belgrad said that among competing cities, Baltimore was first in television audience ratings for pro football, No. 1 in population within 25 miles, tops in household earnings that were in excess of $35,000 and also led in the amount of money spent on entertainment.

After the meeting, Weinglass was to say, "I feel this minute if the group that heard us had to make a decision it would be Baltimore." Unfortunately, the NFL headquarters team of nine interviewers that handled this preliminary function doesn't get to vote but Tagliabue is a member of the committee and will exert influence.

What seemed to impress the league listeners the most, Weinglass was asked? "When Mr. DeVito told them Harbor Place draws more visitors, 13 million, than Disney World during the course of a year. That got their attention. I feel so good about Baltimore. I'd like to say more but the commissioner asked us not to talk about what went on in the room."

Clancy, bringing immense name recognition to the session, when questioned about how he fared, commented, "I gave it my best and my best has always been pretty good." As Weinglass headed toward a hotel elevator, Clancy nodded in his direction and made an assessment. "Boogie seems like a nice guy. Also serious." Then the author had to make a fund-raising dinner speech for the New York library system.

The Glazers asked their part be private. So Maryland Stadium Authority officials and DeVito withdrew without rancor or annoyance. "We certainly respected that request," explained Walter Gutowski, who serves as Baltimore's expansion spokesman.

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