City to make points at 'expansion-less' NFL owners confab

JOHN STEADMAN

March 19, 1993|By JOHN STEADMAN

That earlier advisory from the National Football League, in writing and repeated verbally, notified potential expansion team owners there wasn't any compelling reason for them to attend its annual meeting next week in Palm Desert, Calif. Two of the three Baltimore applicants have decided to stay home. They'll pass.

The only visible representatives from the crab flats of the Chesapeake, unless they, too, change their minds, will be the Glazer family, father Malcolm and sons Joel and Brian. The Glazers, first-rate individuals, plan on being there.

As for the groups headed by Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass and Tom Clancy/Jim Robinson, they decided, on their own, not to make the trip after hearing from the NFL. The policy letter, in a polite way, explained it wasn't necessary to be in attendance and, furthermore, the chance to get a team wouldn't be influenced, one way or the other, if they were present or not.

In short, the idea was they could be there if desired but, otherwise, showing up had no bearing on the eventual outcome -- the awarding of teams to two of the five cities vying for membership when the expansion subject is decided this coming fall. The new clubs would not begin play until the 1995 season.

Meanwhile, on the NFL confab scene and carrying the flag for Baltimore -- regardless of which way the bids go -- will be a two-man team of Raymond "Chip" Mason, representing the business community, and Herb Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority.

"The league told us a hospitality room would not be appropriate and offered other stipulations," said Belgrad. "It didn't tell the ownership groups in the five cities not to come but, at the same time, didn't encourage them either. The impression was the NFL would be pleased if those interested in becoming owners didn't bother to be there at this time."

Belgrad and Mason, however, will be able to talk to the owners in the hotel lobby, hallways, around the swimming pool, in workout rooms and places of leisure on a strictly informal basis. A new brochure extolling Baltimore, prepared by the W.B. Doner Advertising Agency, will be circulated.

The pictures and text develop the theme that 1992 was a great year for Baltimore with the opening of the new baseball park but 1993 will be even better if the NFL decides to favor the city as a site to locate a franchise. Content includes photos of the ballpark, the box-office success of the Orioles, highlights of the NFL exhibition last August and the fact there's so much football interest hereabouts that Baltimore led all five of the expansion cities in television ratings for Super Bowl XXVII.

As another interesting development, Belgrad heard from a source in the South that the sale of luxury boxes in advance of awarding the teams may not be compulsory. The league, after pondering the issue, may suggest it's optional. If one city does it, then the other four, because of the competitive aspect, are seemingly going to have to do the same.

Even if the NFL decides to make the venture a volunteer matter, it is going to have to spell out how many seats are in each proposed box, or suite; the ticket scale; location within the yard lines and how the public money is going to be handled. Do potential box-holders pay a full amount or a down payment?

And, of course, will the also-ran cities, losers in the effort, be compelled to return interest on the monies they held in escrow?

All this could, if implemented, compound problems for the contending candidates -- meaning Baltimore, St. Louis, Charlotte, Memphis and Jacksonville -- and the NFL itself.

The league has not specified what's going to be done, if the preliminary ticket sales are a "go" or a "no." The entire subject also could be dropped, adopted or revised at a later date. Charlotte, though, is eager to play the game of selling luxury boxes to prove how much appeal there is for football in the Carolinas, even though it lacks funding for a stadium.

Then again, what happens if a rich corporation buys all the luxury box tickets in the stadium, or a huge percentage of the seats? Is this the kind of interest the NFL is looking for or does it want a more diversified list of luxury box customers? It's doubtful if a decision this complex is going to be addressed at the meeting.

That's why there's no pressing need for Baltimore to line up now for the NFL muster.

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