If Charlotte wins franchise, might NationsBank lose? N.C. bank could join Mayflower on wrath list

June 22, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

Move over, Mayflower. NationsBank may be about to enter the fan zone -- that tricky realm where any corporation that thwarts our football yearnings can end up with a moving-van-sized load of consumer ill will.

Charlotte, N.C.-based NationsBank won stockholder approval recently to take over MNC Financial Inc., a move that will make it the biggest bank in Maryland. The state, of course, was once the home of the Baltimore Colts and wants desperately to be home to a new NFL franchise.

Charlotte also is vying for an NFL expansion team, and if it gets one, it could come at Baltimore's expense. The two cities are among five finalists for two franchises the league will award this fall.

NationsBank is a big and vocal supporter of the Charlotte bid. It, along with other banks in the city, has agreed to loans for season-ticket buyers. Its chairman, Hugh McColl Jr., has met with NFL officials in support of the city. The bank, already a major lender to the league, might even become a "title sponsor" of the Charlotte stadium, paying a multimillion-dollar fee in exchangefor naming it NationsBank Stadium.

Would Maryland consumers, if they lose out to Charlotte in the football derby, hold it against the bank? Could they peacefully watch a Charlotte Panthers game telecast from NationsBank Stadium while their money earns interest at NationsBank?

The company wouldn't be the first to feel the wrath of local footballfans. The city's local Mayflower franchise, Baltimore Storage Co., is still living down the 1984 loss of the Colts.

The first confirmation local fans had that the Colts were leaving town came on a snowy night that year when a convoy of Mayflower trucks pulled out with the team's equipment, headed for Indianapolis. It is a scene seared into the memory of still-bitter Baltimoreans.

The move was arranged by Mayflower's headquarters in Indianapolis because the local company refused the job. But Baltimore Storage paid a price. There were threatening calls, vandalism and lost work.

"I still hear from people who say they will never use us because of that," said Dave Baker, operations manager for Baltimore Storage. "Every year, it seems to be less and less. But there will always be comments and jokes and articles."

Mayflower has tried to make amends by moving the Colts band to out-of-town engagements for free since the team left.

Baker's advice for NationsBank: "Be aware that some people out there are not going to be happy. Take the bull by the horns and do a little pro-active marketing."

That may be the reason NationsBank has committed to a $105,000-a-year sky box at the proposed football stadium, in addition to a $296,000-a-year box at the proposed Charlotte stadium. The company has not made similar commitments in the two other candidate cities where it does business: Jacksonville, Fla., and Memphis, Tenn.

The Baltimore commitment was made by MNC officials, but with the knowledge and support of NationsBank executives, said Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority and coordinator of the city's football bid. The city will begin taking deposits for sky boxes next month.

"They have been very supportive of our efforts. I would say any resentment toward NationsBank would be misplaced," Belgrad said.

NationsBank officials say they back sports teams all over the country and hope to be the lender for the expansion teams wherever they are located.

That may not be enough for some hard-core Baltimore Colts fans.

"I'm pulling my money out," said John Zeimann, president of the Baltimore Colts Band. He has a savings account for his son at MNC.

"It comes down to the wire now. If NationsBank is backing them, I don't see how they can back us," Zeimann said.

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