'Now or never' stage arrives in NFL bid Luxury seat sales crucial for city

June 18, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

Football would be good for business in Baltimore. Now business has the chance to demonstrate how good it will be to football.

Organizers of Baltimore's bid for a National Football League expansion franchise yesterday kicked off their drive to sell more than $50 million worth of luxury suites and seats -- an effort that could determine whether the city gets a team.

"This is really the last chance to bring NFL football to Baltimore at least for a very long time," said Matt Devito, a coordinator of the city's NFL effort, at a luncheon held under a tent at the site of the proposed stadium, now parking lot C at Camden Yards.

Unveiling the theme of the drive -- "Give Baltimore the Ball -- It's Now or Never" -- Mr. Devito noted that the league last added teams in the 1970s and can't be expected to do so again for many years.

Selling even the best seats in the proposed downtown stadium will be a challenge during the hot days of summer, but Mr. Devito predicted the business community will show its support. Commitments have already been made for 31 of the 100 available sky boxes, he said.

Baltimore NFL backers are hoping an enthusiastic turnout for the luxury seat sale will convince the league that a team would flourish here. The NFL has said it will not be looking for rapid sellouts, but Baltimore's organizers say they are hoping to set a brisk pace that will attract attention at the league's New York headquarters.

All the finalists for an NFL team are conducting similar, 60-day sales campaigns this summer, as part of a final market test established by the league. Baltimore is competing with St. Louis, Charlotte, N.C., Jacksonville, Fla., and Memphis, Tenn., for one of two franchises the league will award this fall for play beginning in 1995.

"I know that we can do it and send that very strong message that Baltimore is a football city," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who was touring the Netherlands on an economic development mission yesterday, sent a taped )) message that was played for the business leaders gathered for the kickoff. He noted that the city's employers have helped him in the past, pushing for such projects as Camden Yards funding and Convention Center expansion.

need you again," Mr. Schaefer said. "We've got to sell these sky boxes, we've got to sell those special seats and we've got to do it now."

Regular tickets will not be sold as part of this effort; rather, deposits will be sought for the pricey sky boxes and club seats that typically attract more corporations than construction workers. The guidelines were established by the NFL to minimize inconvenience to average fans.

In accordance with NFL rules, deposits and applications for what Baltimore organizers call "the suite life" will only be taken between July 1 and Sept. 3.

Terms for sky boxes

Customers will be limited to three sky boxes and 100 club seats each to prevent a benevolent corporate citizen from gobbling up all of them to guarantee a sellout. Friends can share club seats and sky boxes, but they must sign a single lease.

Prices on the posh sky boxes -- with private bars, restrooms and color televisions -- range from $45,000 to $105,000 a year depending upon location. The boxes come in two sizes, seating 12 or 16 fans, and tickets are included in the rent. The stadium will have 108 sky boxes seating 1,568 fans, eight of them reserved for team owners and VIPs.

Club seats, a mezzanine-level layer of 7,500 extra-wide seats with access to exclusive lounges, will rent for $700 to $1,700 a year, not including tickets. The ticket prices will be determined Bby the team's owner, but at the club level probably will run $350- $400 a season. The season-ticket portion of the club seats will not be sold as part of this campaign.

Renting out all the sky boxes and club seats for the minimum three years will require attracting $50.78 million in commitments and $16 million in deposits.

Renters will be asked to put down a deposit equal to half the first year's rent. The rest will be due next year if the city gets a team. If Baltimore is not selected, the deposits will be returned with interest within 10 days of the league's decision, now scheduled for late October.

Leases keyed to 1996

All leases will begin with the 1996 season, when the new stadium would be opened. It will be up to the team owner to decide whether charter sky box and club seat customers will get special treatment during the team's first season, to be played at Memorial Stadium.

One executive at the luncheon yesterday, Jeff Hackett, executive director of the Baltimore law firm of Gordon, Feinblatt Rothman Hoffberger & Hollander, said the firm has already commited to leasing a sky box to go along with similar accommodations at Camden Yards.

"We believe it is an important chance for us to entertain our clients. It's really made a difference for us," Mr. Hackett said.

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