Touchdown: NFL sky boxes sell out Baltimore scores ahead of Charlotte but trails in sales of club seats

August 17, 1993|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

Initially reluctant to join the NFL's premium-seat campaign, Baltimore yesterday became the first expansion finalist to lease all of its sky box suites.

Not surprisingly, the mood among the city's expansion organizers ranged from triumphant to ecstatic.

"It's important to the extent it confirms what we've been telling the NFL," said Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority. "That is that the market is here, that we could sell out our premium seating.

"We were opposed to the campaign at first, but the NFL wanted to determine whether we were able to back up our commitment. The fact we were able to do it so quickly, with such little preparation, does demonstrate the support we knew was there."

In the latest filing of premium seat numbers, Baltimore reported it had rented all 100 sky boxes and 6,040 of its 7,500 club seats.

Charlotte, N.C., officials, who say they already have sold out all their 8,314 club seats, reported leasing 98 of 102 sky boxes.

The campaign, designed by the league to show corporate and community support, began on July 1 and ends Sept. 3. The NFL expects to award two expansion teams for the 1995 season in October.

"Not only did we sell out quickly, [but] 85 percent of the corporations opted for the maximum seven-year leases on the private suites," said Matt DeVito, co-chairman of Baltimore's expansion committee and chairman of the Rouse Co. "That is extraordinary. We didn't bludgeon anybody into this. It was a real response from the business community across the board."

Former NFL general manager Ernie Accorsi, who teamed with David Julian of the Greater Baltimore Committee to make presentations on the premium seating, sounded the note of triumph.

"It was a plan to help Charlotte finance its stadium," Mr. Accorsi said. "We played the game, too, and succeeded. It proves we can do it all. We met every challenge."

Two other finalists, St. Louis and Memphis, Tenn., lag behind in sky boxes and club seats. St. Louis, which has leased only 61 of 100 available sky boxes, has been hampered by the flooding in the Midwest. Memphis, renting 66 of a proposed 100 sky boxes '' in a yet-to-be-renovated Liberty Bowl, joined the drive July 30, halfway through the two-month campaign.

St. Louis leased 1,138 club seats last week, its best week since the drive began, to raise its total to 4,280. But after renting 51 sky boxes in the first three weeks of the campaign, it has gotten commitments on only 10 in the past three weeks.

"We have a stigma that we did not support our past team," said Jerry Clinton, a member of the St. Louis ownership team. "Whether it's real or imagined, that's the stigma and we have to disprove it."

Mr. Clinton said St. Louis should not buy into the perception the city is a lock for one of the two expansion berths. "If two other communities can bring strong economics, that's going to have a bearing on their [NFL owners'] decision," he said. "I don't think anybody should think this is a done deal. We have to put in a strong performance on the premium seats."

In Memphis, Pepper Rodgers said he planned to take his city's campaign to the outlying communities. He was buoyant about Memphis' short-term success.

"It's really been remarkable," he said. "We didn't have any chance to pre-sell anything. Everybody else had a month to tell people what they were doing."

Charlotte's Dan Lohwasser said organizers there "are not actively trying to sell" the final four sky boxes, preferring to use them in a sponsorship package. He said Charlotte has sold more than 47,000 of a possible 62,000 permanent seat licenses, with one-time fees ranging from $600 to $54,000 -- not including the ticket price. Those funds will be used to help pay for the privately financed stadium.

"We feel good with what we've done at this point," Mr. Lohwasser said. "We feel we have proved we can finance a stadium."

For Baltimore, the next step is leasing the remaining 1,500 club seats, priced at $800, $900 and $1,000. Promotions include:

* A free autograph-signing session today from noon until 2 p.m. at the NFL Information Headquarters in The Gallery at Harborplace. Former Colts on hand will be Lenny Moore, Stan White and Joe Washington. Mr. Accorsi will answer questions and take seat applications.

* A "Give Baltimore the Ball" special on WBAL radio Thursday from 8 p.m. to midnight.

* NFL Weekend at the Orioles. Fans can pick up club seat brochures at Camden Yards this weekend during the Orioles' series against the Texas Rangers.

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