In 2 1/2 hours, fans send NFL timely message


January 26, 1992|By Jon Morgan

Organizers of the Aug. 28 pro football game in Baltimore hope yesterday's rapid sellout accomplished two things: reaffirming the city's status as a football town and generating a profit.

Fans responded enthusiastically to the return, even if temporarily, of pro football to Baltimore after an almost nine-year absence.

About 33,000 tickets to the Miami Dolphins-New Orleans Saints preseason game at Memorial Stadium were sold within 2 1/2 hours of the opening of ticket windows at 9 a.m. yesterday. Another 26,000 had been sold by advance mail order, for an official total of 59,428.

Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said the 150-minute sellout might be a record for an exhibition game. Of the 10 cities competing for the two franchises to be added to the NFL in 1994, Baltimore is the last to hold an exhibition game.

"Our purpose was to convey a message to the NFL. . . . I have no doubt that the word has gone out in Super Bowl city," Mr. `D Belgrad said yesterday.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello got the message.

"It's a great demonstration of support for the NFL," Mr. Aiello said. "We are not totally surprised because of the NFL's history in Baltimore. But as Commissioner [Paul] Tagliabue said yesterday, there are many factors which will go into the selection expansion cities, and this is just one of them."

The $1.45 million in ticket revenues will help balance the books on the game and help fund Baltimore's efforts to land a team to replace the Colts, who moved to Indianapolis in March 1984.

"We don't want to go back to the corporate community [for money]," Mr. Belgrad said. Much of the football-promotion effort so far has been funded by contributions from area companies.

He said he hopes the event will generate a profit of $200,000 to $400,000.

To get the game played here, the stadium authority had to guarantee each team at least $500,000. The teams also keep all television revenues from the game if it is broadcast nationally. The TV take, however, will be deducted from the $1 million the stadium authority guaranteed, Belgrad said.

The stadium authority keeps any revenues from local broadcasts, concession sales, advertising and ticket receipts, Mr. Belgrad said.

But the fans who lined up for tickets yesterday seemed more concerned with football than with money. Buyers began camping out in front of the ticket windows at 4 a.m. Friday. Several hundred camped overnight in a below-freezing chill.

By sale time, about 800 people were in line, competing for seats with thousands of fans ordering by phone or at Ticketmaster outlets.

Tickets sold at a brisk rate of 220 a minute. Organizers said that all the campers at Memorial Stadium were served within the first 45 minutes and that phone sales were phased out in the last half-hour to get tickets to as many fans at the stadium as possible.

"It was not that bad. It could have been worse," said Dennis O'Donnell, 27, of Catonsville.

He joined the line about 10 a.m. Friday and was rewarded with upper-deck seats near the 40-yard-line.

"I'd do it all over again," Mr. O'Donnell said.

The day brought into conflict two of Baltimore's characteristics: a love for football and a dread of cold weather and snow (which was forecast but never materialized during the sale).

In the end, football appeared to win the day.

"I'm just here to support the effort," said Robert Morningstar, 27, of Essex.

Mr. Morningstar bought his ticket by mail, but showed up anyway with a banner that read: "B.A.R.F. Baltimoreans Against Redskins Football."

Despite the success of the Redskins, who play in Super Bowl XXVI today, many fans yesterday preferred to remember the rivalry between the Colts and Redskins.

Another reminder of Baltimore's glory days of football was at the stadium yesterday: the Baltimore Colts Marching Band. The 140-member group has continued to tour and perform despite losing its namesake.

Several former Colts players, including Johnny Unitas, were on hand. The Hall of Fame quarterback said he didn't think the sellout would do much to advance the city's chances of landing a new team.

"It will at least get football's attention," Mr. Unitas said, adding: "It gives people something to do on a Saturday morning."

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