Stadium financing is city's selling point

PRO FOOTBALL

March 01, 1992|By VITO STELLINO

Don't forget the stadium.

In the NFL's expansion derby, Baltimore has one hole card that's an ace.

It is the only city in the country with public financing in place for a new open-air football stadium.

It's important to remember the stadium because if Florida

businessman Malcolm Glazer manages to buy majority control of the New England Patriots, it would be viewed as a setback for Baltimore's expansion effort. The same thing happened last year when the city lost Robert Tisch, who bought half the New York Giants.

But it won't necessarily be a decisive setback. The fact that Baltimore has financing in place for the new football-only stadium is an asset that can't be underestimated.

Even if Baltimore gets bypassed in the expansion derby, the approved money for a new stadium in a prime downtown location is going to look attractive to some existing teams.

Which brings us back to the Patriots.

This is a team with a desperate stadium situation.

Listen to the way one owner describes the team's plight at antiquated Foxboro Stadium: "Everybody would admit the stadium situation is almost impossible for a number of reasons. It's pretty tough to make it there."

That's why NFL president Neil Austrian was dispatched to Boston on Tuesday to meet with Gov. William Weld and Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn to impress upon them the importance of getting a new stadium.

"It's very important to the league that we have a team in the New England area," Austrian said.

L After all, the TV market is the sixth largest in the nation.

Meanwhile, the politicians said all the right things.

"Boston is very interested in an NFL franchise here," Flynn said. "It's a world-class city and should have a world-class football team."

Flynn said he is going to appoint a commission to study the feasibility of building a domed stadium.

Boston doesn't need a commission. It needs financing. It's going to be hard to find it in this economy. If it doesn't get a new stadium, there is no way the NFL can stop the Patriots from

moving after expansion even though minority owner Fran Murray said he can block a move before expansion.

Glazer showed he's serious about becoming an owner when he opened talks with majority owner Victor Kiam. Glazer knows that once he has control of a team, he has all the options.

Glazer's a low-key type who is accustomed to making private deals, so it's not surprising that he hasn't made any public comments yet. Even though he's keeping a low profile, it's hard to imagine his staying in Foxboro for many seasons.

That's why it's likely that Baltimore's stadium financing means that the city will get two shots at a team.

If the city gets bypassed in October -- assuming the league expands then -- Glazer could have the Patriots here by 1993 or by 1994 at the latest if Boston doesn't come up with stadium money. The 1994 season is the same one in which the expansion teams will start playing if expansion isn't delayed.

Either way, Baltimore would wind up with a team by the time the expansion teams take the field.

*

Where are the crab cakes?: The NFL won't let Baltimore or any other expansion city sponsor a hospitality room at the annual meetings in Phoenix in two weeks.

Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, asked whether he could have a room if he didn't bring a caterer to serve the crab cakes that were popular in the Baltimore hospitality room in the past. Belgrad pointed out that without a hospitality room, the representatives of the various cities don't have any place to meet the owners and are left standing in the hall outside the meeting room.

*

What's the point spread?: The date for the legal Super Bowl has finally been set.

Federal Judge David Doty last week set June 15 as the date for the start of the players' antitrust trial against the owners in Minneapolis. Doty wants it to be completed in a month because he has a crowded calendar.

The expansion cities will be watching the trial closely. If the owners win, they'll likely go ahead with expansion even without a collective bargaining agreement.

If they lose, though, and are facing treble damages and the prospect of skyrocketing salaries, it's easy to imagine that they would decide to postpone expansion.

The interesting thing about the case is that neither side says it's about money.

The players say it's about free agency. The owners say it's about maintaining competitive balance by preventing the big markets from signing all the best players.

But when people say it's not the money, it usually is the money. What both sides are looking at are those big salaries in baseball and basketball.

The players love the idea of getting that kind of money in pro football. The owners loathe it.

*

Is this Plan C?: It's not surprising that the Washington Redskins have yet to sign a player or lose a player at the halfway point in the Plan B signing period.

General manager Charley Casserly said the team may not sign any players this year because there aren't too many on the list who've caught his eye.

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