Expansion hopefuls try a draw play Memphis, St. Louis woo NFL with ads

February 11, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

With the NFL expansion race presumably heading into its final lap, two of the finalist cities have launched a new, and very public, push for the lead.

First Memphis, Tenn., and then St. Louis bought full-page advertisements in USA Today this month to promote themselves as homes for one of the two teams the NFL says it wants to add by 1995.

Baltimore, Charlotte, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla., also are seeking teams. A decision is expected this fall.

"Hey NFL! There's a Gaping Hole in Your Coverage" was the headline over Memphis' ad, which ran the day after the Super Bowl and mostly was paid for with contributions collected in bars, sporting events, restaurants and parties across town.

The ad listed the city's "advantages," including being a mecca for Elvis fans, having a natural grass stadium, terrific barbecue and the fact that "no other city in the world is mentioned in as many songs as Memphis." It featured a map of the nation's midsection, with a circle encompassing the football-less region around Memphis, bounded by Chicago, Kansas City, Indianapolis, New Orleans and Dallas.

Officials in St. Louis apparently took umbrage at seeing their market inside the circle, and responded with their own full-page ad on Monday.

"St. Louis congratulates Walter Payton on your selection to the NFL Hall of Fame," read the ad. "We hope the National Football League will vote you another historic honor . . . Owner/partner of a new St. Louis NFL franchise."

Payton, a former Chicago Bears running back, is a member of the proposed St. Louis ownership group. He was elected Jan. 30 to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and will be inducted on July 31.

After acknowledging Payton's "grace and dignity," the USA Today ad lists a couple of other St. Louis extras: a domed stadium, corporate and fan support and the largest television market among the expansion-hopeful cities.

"I think since Memphis included St. Louis in their ring, then it was incumbent upon me to say something, and the way I preferred to do it was with a congratulatory letter to Walter," said Jerry Clinton, president of St. Louis NFL Partnership.

He said he also wanted to remind America of St. Louis' effort, which he said has been overshadowed by speculation that the foundering New England Patriots could be moved to St. Louis. James Busch Orthwein, chairman of the St. Louis NFL Partnership, bought the Patriots last year. He said he wants to improve its finances and resell it in time to buy a team for St. Louis.

Clinton said he had no more ads planned, but "if it's warranted, we'll do it." Steve Naru, a spokesman for Memphis' bid, said he doesn't think the organization will be running any more ads either.

"You and I know the decision is going to be made by the NFL owners. It wasn't done to sway the owners committee. It was done more to get the community excited again," Naru said.

Walt Gutowski, spokesman for the Maryland Stadium Authority, which is promoting Baltimore's application, said it has no ads planned.

"How much it really gets you in the long run is open to debate," he said. "We have made our arguments very emphatically to the owners and league directly."

Jacksonville and Charlotte, N.C., have no plans for ad campaigns, according to representatives there.

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