Charlotte's refusal to pay for NFL stadium could be costly mistake

PRO FOOTBALL

July 05, 1992|By VITO STELLINO

Read their lips: no public funding.

That was the almost universal reaction in Charlotte, N.C., last week when the leaders of the city's expansion effort conceded that St. Louis and Baltimore have an advantage in the NFL expansion derby because they have public funding in place for new stadiums.

The group didn't even ask for public funding, but the politicians quickly landed a first strike against the idea.

"I will not support another dime," said Mayor Pro Tem Ann Hammond.

The Gaston (N.C.) Gazette even wrote an editorial blasting the NFL for giving an advantage to cities with public money for stadiums.

"It's not the role of government to provide a facility for any business. Government doesn't pay for textile plants. It shouldn't pay for a football stadium. Doing so would amount to welfare for the wealthy. The NFL shouldn't try to influence local political decisions by putting potential franchises with privately financed stadiums at a disadvantage," the paper wrote.

Noting the NFL's decision to yank next January's Super Bowl out of Phoenix because Arizona voters turned down a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the paper added, "It's troubling to see the role the NFL tries to play in state and local politics."

Charlotte is being welcomed to the real world of the NFL.

Even overlooking the fact that governments often offer financial incentives to lure textile plants, it's too late for philosophical debates about whether it is proper to build stadiums for sports teams.

The real question is whether a community wants to pay the price for a team. It can be argued the price is unfair, but public funding is the price.

St. Louis and Baltimore lost teams and are willing to pay the price to get them back.

Charlotte's mistake was in not attempting to get public funding several years ago, when times were better. All it got was money for the land.

The city now will try to get corporations or other third parties to make contributions to build part of the stadium, but even if that's pulled off, Charlotte wouldn't match the public funding deals St. Louis and Baltimore are offering the NFL.

Pocketful of pennies

When the Philadelphia Eagles raised ticket prices in 1989 for the third straight season, owner Norman Braman said: "The team is not making money. The team has not made money since I bought it, and I don't draw one cent out of the team in salaries or expenses . . . not one penny of it [price increase] is going into my pocket or into any member of my family's [pockets]. . . . Look, you don't get rich from owning a football club. . . . I'm glad I don't have to depend on the Philadelphia Eagles for my financial well-being."

In 1990, Braman didn't put one penny into his pocket either -- he stuffed millions of them into his pocket.

According to testimony by Stanford University economics professor Roger Noll last week in the antitrust trial in Minneapolis, Braman paid himself $7.5 million in salary in 1990.

Braman wasn't the only owner to pay himself handsomely. Ralph Wilson, owner of the Buffalo Bills, paid himself $3.5 million in 1990, and the Smith family, owners of the Atlanta Falcons, paid themselves $1 million. Bill Bidwill, owner of the Phoenix Cardinals, paid himself $2 million in 1990-91.

Noll won't undergo cross examination until tomorrow, and the owners' lawyers are likely to make the point that 1990 was the only year Braman gave himself the big payout. But the testimony undercut the owners' emphasis on the players' salaries.

At an impasse

The Washington Redskins will hold their first training-camp practice two weeks from tomorrow, and it is no longer a question whether quarterback Mark Rypien is going to be there.

The two sides are so far apart that it is obvious he will be holding out at the outset of camp. The real question is whether he will be there for the regular-season opener in September against the Dallas Cowboys.

Referring to the Dallas opener, Rypien's agent, Ken Staninger, said last week: "They're going to have a tough time winning it if half their team is holding out. I'm sure nobody has to tell [coach] Joe Gibbs that."

Staninger said rookie Desmond Howard, cornerback Darrell Green and offensive lineman Jim Lachey aren't close to terms either.

One Redskin told his agent that Rypien was so upset with the Redskins' offer that he crumbled up the sheet with the numbers on it and threw it in the wastebasket. "That's pretty close," Staninger said when he was asked about the comment.

Rypien wants to be the highest-paid player in the league (the Miami Dolphins' Dan Marino is tops at an average of $4.43 million), and the Redskins apparently are offering slightly more than $2 million.

Staninger said Rypien is so upset that he skipped some of the team's off-season workouts last month. Staninger said Rypien felt, "If that's all they think of me, there's no reason to go back [for the workouts]."

"He really feels rejected by the 'Skins," Staninger said.

Staninger also said he's not using the Canadian Football League as a bargaining chip. "It's a legitimate, realistic option," he said.

The two sides haven't talked in more than two weeks because general manager Charley Casserly has been on vacation. Casserly, who returns to work tomorrow, faces a long, hot summer.

The signing game

The Washington Redskins won't be the only team that will have problems signing players. Cornerback Terrell Buckley, the fifth pick in the draft by the Green Bay Packers, wants to match the $2.25 million-a-year contract Steve Emtman got from the Indianapolis Colts for being the first pick. That's not the way the "slotting system" works. But Desmond Howard of the Redskins, jTC the fourth player selected, wants more than Emtman on the grounds that he was the first offensive player selected and won the Heisman Trophy.

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