Dollars and $ense

September 07, 1993

So the Baltimore football boosters sold out the premium spots in the not-yet-constructed stadium. Big deal. There was never any question local businesses and football fans would grab those sky boxes and club seats. The local group had to do it because rival Charlotte, without financing for a stadium, was grasping at straws to prove its proposal viable. If we were the National Football League owners, we would be more impressed by a couple of other things -- or perhaps three.

Most recent was the furor here over the name of the team we don't have yet. How much more evidence does the NFL need that this metropolitan area is overrun with sports fanatics, who can even get charged up over a team's name? Then there was the greater uproar when the Rev. Benjamin Chavis seemed to be throwing the NAACP's weight behind Charlotte's bid. The loudest -- and eventually most effective -- protests came from the metropolitan area's African-American leaders. Especially the local officials of the NAACP itself.

Finally there were the throngs at FanFest, the baseball memorabilia, carnival and big-ticket souvenir mart during All-Star Week. More than 110,000 fans spent plenty there. Sure, some of those fans were from out of town. But only 48,000 people got into the game, and a lot of them were Marylanders. So it figures that the overwhelming majority of the visitors to FanFest were local.

This is all appealing stuff on the emotional level. But no one here expects the two new NFL franchises to be awarded next month on sentiment. The controlling factor will be the amount of money the new franchises will contribute to the league's coffers. And there Baltimore is way ahead.

Some of the recent events translate into dollars. The NFL earns a lot from the sale of shirts, jackets and all sorts of souvenirs with club logos on them. If Marylanders care that much about their team's symbol -- Rhino, Raven, Navy goat or whatever -- they are sure to buy them when the time comes.

The sharp reaction from the area's black community over the NAACP misstep points to a large market for football tickets here that is conspicuously absent from Orioles sell-outs.

Combined with the assurance of $1 million payoffs to visiting teams whenever they play here -- far more than at any current NFL city, let alone Charlotte or St. Louis -- and it is hard to see how the NFL can pass Baltimore up. Those $105,000 sky boxes && and $1,700 club seats look like better investments all the time.

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