. . . but Accorsi says Baltimore still in

Bill Tanton

July 06, 1993|By Bill Tanton

People are confused. They're angry. They're getting disgusted with the whole thing.

After a long holiday weekend of charges, counter-charges and internal bickering over the NAACP's support of Charlotte, N.C., for an NFL expansion franchise, people here are wondering if this episode is going to cost Baltimore the pro football team it dearly wants.

One person who remains undaunted is Ernie Accorsi.

This veteran of 23 years in the NFL has spent the last three months as special adviser to the effort to "Give Baltimore the Ball." At a Fourth of July cookout on Middle River, Accorsi expressed some encouraging views.

"I don't think the NAACP's endorsement of Charlotte is going to be a big factor in the league's decision on where to expand," he said.

"We're not worrying about what Charlotte or the other competing cities do," Accorsi said. "Our position is just to go right on working toward the goals we've set for ourselves.

"I honestly believe that if we sell the premium seating we're selling now, we'll get one of the two expansion franchises."

Coming from Accorsi, this means something.

He alone, of all the people involved in the Baltimore effort, is well connected with the 28 NFL owners who'll make the decision -- which is why Accorsi was brought into the group in the first place.

Herb Belgrad, Matt DeVito and Chip Mason have met the owners, Belgrad numerous times during this protracted campaign.

But Accorsi really knows them. He was the general manager of the Baltimore Colts and, from 1984 to 1991, the general manager of the Cleveland Browns. He even worked under Pete Rozelle in the league office.

Having worked with the owners and their top executives, Accorsi understands them. He knows how they think. He believes he knows how, in the end, they'll judge Baltimore.

"Right now," Accorsi said, "they're looking at figures and projection charts. They have their chief financial officers working on this.

"Don't get me wrong. The owners find the Carolinas attractive. But none of the other cities seeking a franchise [Charlotte, St. Louis, Memphis, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla.] can offer what we have to offer -- a funded new stadium and a chance to make more money here than anywhere else.

"The Baltimore situation is a great deal for an owner. He pays $1 a year rent for the stadium. He gets the concessions and the parking. In some places -- New England, for example -- the team gets none of the parking.

"The NFL owners want to see healthy franchises and they want to see healthy visiting team shares.

"The visiting team's share here will be $1 million. The average visitor's take in the league now is $550,000. An owner like [Redskins] Jack Kent Cooke can put his team on a bus, come over here and play a game and go home with a million dollars."

Accorsi believes there are many things that make NFL owners look favorably upon Baltimore, including the success of the Orioles at Camden Yards and the renaissance of the city.

But the thing that makes this city most attractive to them, he feels, is the financial deal devised by Herb Belgrad and proposed to the NFL in 1991.

"That really turned the owners' heads," Accorsi said. "I was with the Browns then and I remember how our owner [Art Modell] reacted to it.

"At that time visiting teams were getting about $350,000 from a road game. Herb Belgrad was absolutely visionary in making it this appealing to a prospective owner in the mid-and-late '90s."

Neither of Baltimore's two prospective football owners -- the Glazer family nor Boogie Weinglass' group -- flinched when the league announced the price of a franchise would be $140 million plus half of the TV revenue. It is estimated that the franchise will be worth $180 million to $190 million.

Of course all of Accorsi's optimism is predicated upon a successful sales campaign for the proposed stadium's 100 suites (at between $45,000 and $100,000) and 7,500 club seats ranging in price from $700 in the end zone to $1,700 at the 50-yard line.

"We're selling the suites faster than we can make the appointments," Accorsi said. "The club seats have been selling so briskly it's overwhelming. But we only have until Sept. 3 to sell them.

"If we don't get this done, our effort is in jeopardy. The owners want to see if we'll support this.

"Another key thing for us is convincing the owners that Baltimore in the '90s is not the same city they remember from the late '60s and '70s.

"I can look out the window of my office in the World Trade Center and see the difference. There are only a few buildings that are remnants of the old Baltimore.

"This city today can compete with any nouveau Sun Belt city. This city is special. Maybe it took me eight years in Cleveland to understand that."

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