City sells out NFL seat Charlotte, St. Louis may not meet goals

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

With less than a week to go in the NFL-designed drive to sell premium seats, Baltimore has announced a sellout while the perceived front-runners for the two expansion teams acknowledge they may fall short of their goals.

Baltimore's NFL organizers announced yesterday a clean sweep their pricey luxury suites and club seats, 8 1/2 weeks after they went on sale. Two of Baltimore's four rivals seeking to gain a new NFL team, Charlotte, N.C., and St. Louis, now say they may end the two-month drive this week with unsold stock on the shelves.

Charlotte posted the best record selling sky boxes and club seats, finishing its sale weeks ago, but it still has 14,000 of its 62,000 season-ticket licenses, which fans will have to buy before they can get most of the proposed team's season tickets.

Baltimore officials say those licenses, because they carry a special fee, have to be considered premium seats for purposes of calculating sellouts -- making Baltimore the first technically to do so. Charlotte obtained special permission from the league to test-market the licenses.

But Charlotte NFL spokesman Dan Lohwasser said: "We're thrilled with the way the sales have gone."

The city's ownership group had predicted a sellout when it launched the campaign but now says fewer would be sufficient evidence that the unconventional, fee-based stadium financing plan can work. Other cities plan to use public funding for stadium renovation or construction.

About 48,000 of 62,000 available seat licenses have been sold in Charlotte at prices ranging from $600 to $5,400. Sales of the licenses, which will stop when the NFL luxury seat drive does Friday, will resume if a franchise is awarded to the city, at prices 10 percent above those available now, Mr. Lohwasser said.

"We could very easily go in with this and prove that the concept for financing will work," Mr. Lohwasser said.

Charlotte reported weeks ago that it has sold out its 8,314 club seats and 98 of its 102 sky boxes, and that it intended to reserve the rest of the sky boxes for VIPs.

In the every-other-week report to the NFL, St. Louis reported yesterday 68 of 100 sky boxes and 5,842 of 6,252 club seats had been leased.

"We certainly expect to sell out of the club seats. Whether we sell out of the suites, it's a long shot," said Al Kirth, a spokesman for the St. Louis NFL bid. He said the city's catastrophic flooding hampered sales, distracting fans and destroying businesses that had been counted on as buyers.

"The league says this is one factor among others. Do I think we are a contender? Yes," Mr. Kirth said.

The league plans to award the two franchises in October. Charlotte, Baltimore, St. Louis, Memphis, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla., are finalists for a team.

Baltimore reported as leased yesterday all 100 of its sky boxes, priced from $45,000 to $105,000 a year, and all 7,500 club seats, which carry an annual fee of $700 to $1,700 on top of the season-ticket cost.

"Every time there is a challenge that the NFL puts before us we seem to meet and beat it," Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said at a news conference staged at the site of the proposed football stadium, now a parking lot for Camden Yards.

Herbert J. Belgrad, the coordinator of Baltimore's NFL bid and an early critic of the premium seat campaign, said he was encouraged by the response.

"The reason I resisted getting into this was not any lack of confidence. It was how many times can you bring the fan to the well? There's just so much we can ask from fans," Mr. Belgrad said.

The sellout was accomplished with a small promotional budget, making broad use of donations and volunteers, and during a time when the city was distracted by the All-Star Game, he said. It also was done without raiding the fan base of the

Redskins; Baltimore organizers intentionally excluded the Washington area from their marketing effort.

"The same fan base that sold out Memorial Stadium is here even though it's a new generation. This is a football town," Mr. Belgrad said. "We've been able to achieve this because of grass-roots support."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said: "We're certainly encouraged by the response in Baltimore and the other cities."

The league said from the beginning that the velocity of sales would not be a deciding factor in awarding a team. But it did want the sales to verify the economic projections contained in each city's application.

In Memphis, the on-again, off-again NFL bid has produced remark-able results considering it joined the effort July 30. It reported yesterday 93 of 100 sky boxes and 6,727 of 8,200 club seats leased. Officials there said they were counting on a strong turnout before committing to continuing the NFL bid.

Memphis spokesman Pepper Rodgers predicted that the last suites and seats would be sold this week.

Jacksonville's proposed ownership group, which dropped out of the NFL race only to rejoin it recently, has a lease with the city on the Gator Bowl that allows it to drop out again if fewer than 9,000 of its 10,000 club seats are sold by Friday. As of yesterday, 6,072 of the club seats had been leased in an effort that began last Wednesday.

Sky box figures were not available, but before the city dropped out of the race 18 suites had been leased.

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