Revised game plan in works to finish city's NFL seating push PRO FOOTBALL

July 31, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

A chart in Saturday's editions incorrectly listed the availability of some sky boxes for a proposed NFL expansion team in Baltimore. In addition to others indicated as sold out, those priced at $45,000 and $50,000 also have been leased.

* The Sun regrets the error.

Organizers of Baltimore's NFL bid are considering some new approaches as the two-month drive to sell premium seats enters its second half.

"The second phase is going to be tougher. The first 30 boxes and thousand club seats sailed out of here," said Matt DeVito, an organizer of the city's bid and chairman of the Rouse Co., a Columbia-based real estate developer.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"It's like every other campaign. The usual suspects are already contacted," he said.

The league-designed drive to market sky boxes and club seats began July 1 and must end Sept. 3. Baltimore and the three other finalists for an expansion franchise are hoping to report sellouts as a demonstration of corporate and community support.

Yesterday, Baltimore organizers reported 83 of 100 sky boxes and 5,026 of 7,500 club seats had been leased. Club seats, a relatively new concept in stadiums, are extra wide and feature access to exclusive lounges and dining areas.

St. Louis, another contender for a team, is trailing badly in premium seat sales. It has sold only 54 of 100 sky boxes and 2,353 of 6,252 club seats, but blames the distractions of river flooding for slowing sales.

Of the other finalists, Charlotte, N.C., declined to provide an update until Monday, when the league is supposed to receive them from all of the cities. Memphis, Tenn., just announced plans this week to mount a campaign.

Baltimore enters the last month with a handful of sky boxes remaining, mostly in the stadium's corners and all priced at $70,000 and below. The $80,000 to $105,000 boxes are sold out.

The 2,474 remaining club seats follow a similar pattern, with the most expensive sections -- those carrying annual fees of $1,200 to $1,700 -- selling most quickly, and the middle-priced ones going slower. A few hundred of the $700 club seats, the lowest price, remain.

"I think we just need some extra muscle right now. We're looking at some alternative promotions," said Anya Harris, a public relations executive with Trahan, Burden & Charles working on the project.

Among the devices being considered: a promotion at Camden Yards, a radio call-in show with ex-Colts players, establishing a "deadline" earlier than the Sept. 3 one, and refocused advertising, she said. Organizers are also calling back fans who asked for order forms but have not sent them in yet, she said.

Any new promotions would be designed around an appeal to urgency and civic duty, the twin motivations organizers have found successful. Many ticket buyers have signed up for club seats out of fear of being shut out of a season ticket lottery when tickets go on sale, after the expansion teams are announced, Harris said.

Club seats have found favor with small and medium-sized companies looking for opportunities to entertain clients, but the Maryland Stadium Authority also hopes to reach ordinary fans in the last few weeks of the campaign, she said.

Organizers will try to focus their message on the affordability of club seat packages, especially the "two for one" promotion offered to long-term renters, said Walt Gutowski, a stadium authority executive coordinating the club seat sales. Under that plan, fans signing up for the maximum, seven-year club seat lease are guaranteed the right to buy two additional season tickets when they go on sale, before a lottery is held.

A five-year club seat lease earns the right to one additional season ticket. A VIP parking pass is awarded for club seat purchases of four or more.

Gutowski said group purchases are being encouraged under this plan. For example, six friends can buy a pair of club seats and receive the rights to four additional season tickets -- called a "six pack" -- and rotate the use of the club and regular seats.

Ticket prices have not been set, but if season tickets cost $300, and club seats go for $350 on top of the $700 annual fee per seat, the six friends would pay $550 each a season, or $55 for each of the eight regular-season and two preseason games.

All club seat and sky box leases require a deposit equal to half the first year's rent, refundable with interest if the city is not awarded a team. Information is available through the city's NFL hot line: 539-4NFL.

At the first report, based on sales through July 16, Charlotte was in the lead with 82 of 102 sky boxes and all 8,314 of its club seats rented. St. Louis reported 49 sky boxes and 696 club seats leased. Baltimore had 70 sky boxes and about 3,800 club seats rented.

St. Louis has added sales people for the final push, said spokesman Al Kirth.

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