Four teams not just pie in owners' eyes

JOHN EISENBERG

September 03, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

There is, of course, one good and entirely selfish reason why Baltimore should embrace the concept of the NFL expanding by four teams instead of two: It means we get our team, period. Any shred of doubt is eliminated. No more maybe. Final score: Baltimore gets the ball. Go Rhavens!

In other words, it's overwhelmingly, irrefutably, 100-percent-and-no-less self-serving for us to agree with the XTC four-team idea, which was posed publicly for the first time the other day by Jerry Jones, the Cowboys' owner and cultural icon. (And you didn't like him.)

But it's also the right thing for the NFL to do. A bright idea. Absolutely the course that should be taken.

Convincing the owners of that will be difficult, maybe impossible. Some owners are reluctant to expand at all, much less add an entire division's worth of new teams. They're sporting socialists, revenue sharers, and, in their eyes, cutting the pie into more pieces will only shrink their share.

But such a stance is strictly defensive and not even necessarily true.

Consider: Birthing four teams, at $140 million per team, would give each old team an instant hit of $20 million. If they were to stick that wad in the bank and collect the interest, the income would do a lot to offset any shrinking shares of the pie.

And don't forget that adding four teams would significantly increase the size of the entire pie. New teams would generate millions in T-shirt and hat revenue before a ball was so much as snapped. And, more importantly, adding home TV markets would give the league more bargaining power with the networks.

There's a lot of complicated math involved in all this, but you can pretty safely assume that expansion actually increases the owners' shares of the pie. If it didn't, these hardballers wouldn't have agreed to expand in the first place.

So, why does four new teams make more sense than two? It would allow the league to properly reward the two "old" markets that skinned the competition with publicly funded stadium plans -- Baltimore and St. Louis -- and still expand its fan base by moving into new territories such as Charlotte or Memphis. With one bold stroke, the league could add the stability of the old and the freshness of the new.

The league would benefit mightily from the extra-large dose of new teams, rivalries, stadiums and ideas. The owners might not think they need it -- their TV ratings and attendance are as high as ever -- but they should heed the wildly successful examples of baseball and NBA expansion.

In fact, baseball's expansion into Colorado, which has taken a whack out of the Broncos' popularity, should be all the evidence the NFL owners need.

The plain fact is that the NFL is just another business competing for the entertainment dollar with other sports, movies and TV, and, as goes the old axiom (and the example of Colorado), a business that isn't growing is shrinking.

Without expansion, the NFL will do no better than maintain its share of the market. Only with expansion is there any potential for real growth.

Besides, it would be dead wrong, not to mention a colossal PR disaster, for the league to turn down any of these expansion contenders after making them go through this unbelievably long, difficult, expensive process of putting together bids and selling luxury boxes and premium seats and premium peanuts and whatever.

Baltimore, St. Louis, Charlotte and Memphis have jumped through more hoops than any 50 cities should have to jump through. They've raised millions of dollars and proved beyond any doubt their ability to support a team. Memphis, with no chance, has knocked 'em dead.

To turn any of them down now, after teasing them so miserably, would border on moral bankruptcy. Baltimore has the only airtight bid, but all four are deserving.

The only reasonable answer is four new teams, delivered in pairs. Baltimore and St. Louis begin play in 1995, Charlotte and Memphis in 1996. The latter cities' bids have been undermined by problems with funding and stadiums, but the assurance of a team and the extra year would help them get it all together.

It's possible the owners had such a plan, or a similar one, all along, despite their pledge to add only two teams. Why else make the cities so completely confirm themselves beforehand? But the hunch here is that the owners haven't thought much about expansion yet, not in the midst of getting their teams ready for the season.

In any case, the time for negotiating and decision-making approaches, and, even though they said they'd only add two teams, the owners would do well to change courses. To paraphrase a slogan from an old football fan: Four more teams!

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