For the first time since the current expansion process started 15 months ago, four NFL officials visited Baltimore yesterday on a one-day fact-finding mission.
Roger Goodell, the league's executive director for club relations, and three of his aides met with Baltimore officials, toured Harborplace and attended last night's Orioles game at Camden Yards.
None of the owners and the expansion committee, who will do the actual voting, made the trip, because commissioner Paul Tagliabue is having his staff members collect all of the HTC information from the five cities left in the expansion derby. The other four are St. Louis, Charlotte, N.C., Memphis, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla.
Baltimore officials have a standing invitation to all the owners to attend a game at Camden Yards, but have promised they won't publicize any social visits they decide to make.
The last time Baltimore officials got a chance to make a presentation to the NFL was in New York last December, when there were still 11 cities in the field. Six cities have been eliminated since.
Goodell and his aides continued their policy of declining interview requests during their visits to the expansion cities. But Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, and Matt DeVito, chairman of the Rouse Corp. and immediate past chairman of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said Baltimore put its best foot forward during the visit.
"I thought they seemed to evidence a lot of good feelings toward Baltimore," DeVito said. "I felt they were very fair-minded."
DeVito said neither Goodell nor his aides indicated there were any areas in which Baltimore needed to improve its bid.
"I think Baltimore has met all of their requirements. We're optimistic people by nature, and we felt very optimistic about the meeting. I felt there was nothing that would have handicapped our efforts," DeVito said.
By contrast, Charlotte officials say the league has told them that their attempt to finance a stadium with private money doesn't match the Baltimore and St. Louis public funding plans. Charlotte is trying to restructure its stadium financing deal.
DeVito said it was an "unspoken ground rule" that no other city was discussed, but the Baltimore officials outlined their public financing plan.
"They asked a lot of questions, and Herb went into the numbers," DeVito said.
The NFL staff members said there is a possibility that the league will ask the five cities to sell luxury boxes to show corporate support.
Because Baltimore has three potential ownership groups, it could be difficult to set a price on luxury boxes, but DeVito and Belgrad said that won't be a major problem.
Belgrad also said the NFL officials indicated it was not a negative that Baltimore is the only city with more than one ownership group.
Goodell and his aides were given a tour of Harborplace and Camden Yards and were joined for dinner by Baltimore native George Young, general manager of the New York Giants, and Ernie Accorsi, the former executive vice president of the Cleveland Browns. Accorsi is also an ex-Baltimore Colts general manager.
Goodell told the Baltimore officials that their next step would be to meet with the leaders of the three ownership groups.
The league's timetable is to name two teams this fall to play in 1994, but that could be delayed, pending the outcome of the NFL antitrust trial in Minneapolis.