After first quarter, city No. 2 in NFL sales race Trails Charlotte in premium seat effort

July 20, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

Two weeks into a two-month effort to sell pricey NFL tickets, Baltimore is ahead of flood-battered St. Louis but behind Charlotte, N.C., in the race to prove fan support.

"The response has been overwhelming. The response has been beyond our projections," said Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority and coordinator of the city's effort to land an NFL expansion franchise. "We could not be more pleased."

Cities competing for an NFL team were asked to file updates with a league-appointed accounting firm based on sales through last Friday. The next update is due July 30.

League officials say they are not concerned about the speed of sales, but merely want to see if the cities can support the $H projections in their applications. Five cities are competing for two franchises, but only three -- Charlotte, N.C., Baltimore and St. Louis -- are engaged in the market-testing sales effort.

Of the 100 sky boxes being marketed for Baltimore's downtown stadium, 70 were officially leased as of Friday, most for the longest, seven-year term. About half, or 3,800, of the 7,500 "club seats" have been leased. Club seats are roomier than regular seats and have access to the luxury lounges.

Charlotte reported all of its 8,314 club seats and 82 of its 102 sky boxes leased. St. Louis, where residents are battling flooding, had sold 49 of 100 sky boxes and 696 of 6,252 club seats as of Friday.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said: "We're not concerned in the least with how fast the premium seats are sold. What's important where the cities come out in the end."

But the comparisons are inevitable.

Baltimore officials announced their results yesterday at a news conference at their sales headquarters in the Gallery at Harborplace. It was the first official status report on the city's campaign, which Mr. Belgrad has pledged not to turn into a footrace.

Sept. 3 deadline

The cities have until Sept. 3 to market their premium seats -- regular-season tickets are not on sale -- and Mr. Belgrad has said the city would set a steady, deliberate pace.

"I don't care what other cities are doing," he said yesterday.

Charlotte took the opposite approach. Officials there aggressively promoted the seats weeks in advance of the official July 1 start date, using an orchestrated series of announcements and media events. The city's bid is complicated by the fact that it also is trying to collect deposits for one-time season-ticket fees

earmarked for stadium financing.

"What counts is action and I would think that all of us would prefer to sell out early rather than later," said Max Muhleman, a sports marketing consultant involved in Charlotte's bid.

Charlotte's sellout of club seats is all the more remarkable because they carry both high prices -- from $975 to $2,975 depending on location -- and a one-time $1,500 fee for stadium construction. Baltimore's club seats sell for $700 to $1,700 a season.

"We're delighted with the response," Mr. Muhleman said.

Charlotte announced a few weeks ago that it had sold all of its sky boxes, but that represented both official and unofficial commitments. The figures reported to the league include only those seats secured by nonrefundable deposits equal to half the first-year rent.

Baltimore leaders say they too are near a sellout with informal commitments, but have resisted giving specific numbers.

In St. Louis, the swollen Mississippi River has diverted attention from the NFL drive, said Jerry Clinton, a local beverage distributor and prospective co-owner of a St. Louis team.

"All of our focus is dedicated toward beating the rising water. . . . I think as soon as the waters recede, the focus will return to our efforts," Mr. Clinton said.

He predicted neither the pace nor the number of premium seats sold would affect the NFL's decision on where to put franchises.

"I think the whole thing was designed to get financing for Charlotte's stadium. They are more desperate than us," Mr. Clinton said.

No one has edge

Charlotte was one of the strongest supporters of the premium seat campaign, but league officials have said the competition, which is voluntary, does not favor any city over another.

Ernie Accorsi, an ex-NFL executive working as a consultant on Baltimore's bid, said the sales have followed a predictable pattern: the first to go were the cheapest and the most expensive. Still remaining are those at the corners.

"I don't know how the other cities are doing; we aren't taking orders over the phone from people who are spending $45,000," Mr. Accorsi said. Sky box customers receive personal visits from a member of the city's NFL expansion committee.

Sky boxes at Baltimore are priced at $45,000 to $105,000 a season. Multi-year leases are required.

Mr. Accorsi and other expansion leaders have presentations planned for south central Pennsylvania, Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore. The city has resisted marketing the premium seats in the Washington suburbs to avoid encroaching on the Redskins' market.

Two other expansion candidates may soon be rejoining the race. Prospective owners in Jacksonville, Fla., have reached a tentative lease agreement that will be voted on Wednesday by the city council. The premium seat campaign there was delayed during the negotiations, which threatened to end the city's NFL bid.

Jacksonville's NFL report on Friday listed 2,019 of 10,000 club seats sold. David Seldin, head of Jacksonville's bid, refused to say how many of the 68 sky boxes had been leased.

In Memphis, Tenn., the NFL bid has been on hold while new investors are sought. An announcement is scheduled for next Tuesday where a "new source of revenue" and details of a premium seat campaign will be announced, said spokesman Pepper Rodgers.

The league is scheduled to award the expansion franchises in October, with the teams beginning play in 1995.

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