Baltimore's allure: Dollars -- and sense Final expansion pitch Tuesday in Chicago

September 19, 1993|By JON MORGAN | JON MORGAN,STAFF WRITER

As a market, it lacks the sparkling allure of a large, defined region. And it's hardly the sort of "fresh" territory so favored by sports leagues these days: it is or has been the home of major league baseball, football and basketball.

In fact, Baltimore sits squat in the middle of an area so congested with National Football League teams that a fan here can drive to any of four pro football stadiums within four hours.

But organizers of the city's nearly 10-year-old bid to rejoin the NFL think they have put together a deal so irresistable that it will overcome these shortcomings.

And they intend to prove it this week.

The final lap of the NFL expansion race begins on Tuesday and Wednesday when the five contending cities make formal presentations in Chicago to committees of NFL owners overseeing expansion and league finances.

For Baltimore's delegation, the hotel conference room will be a perfect venue to lay out the economic facts that make this the perfect home for football, according to Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority and coordinator of Baltimore's NFL effort.

"They are not going to be persuaded by rhetoric or glitzy films. They are going to look at the dollars and cents. And in that regard I come out ahead," Mr. Belgrad said. "My numbers can stand up under scrutiny."

Mr. Belgrad, a button-down local attorney who makes no pretense of being a sports fan, will lead the city's presentation. He predicts that the when the final vote is taken Oct. 26-28 the league will protect its financial integrity and go with what he considers Baltimore's rock-solid financial offer.

It's the only city without questions to answer about market, financing or ownership, he said. A Baltimore team would get a state-of-the-art stadium, built with public funds, and offered on terms that will make it one of the most profitable in sports. That will allow it to pay visiting teams $1 million -- twice the league average -- in gate receipts per game.

It may very well be, in Mr. Belgrad's words, "an offer they can't refuse."

But, he adds: "My theory is that there are five finalists and anybody who underestimates any of the finalists is making a fatal error."

Baltimore's delegation makes its presentation on Tuesday from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Because it is the only city with two ownership groups vying for the team, Baltimore will get an additional 30 minutes for the investors to make their separate pitches.

The presentation will kick off with a 6-8 minute film, produced for $50,000, that projects the "enthusiasm of the market," according to planners.

Mr. Belgrad says he won't show the film to the public until after the October decision, but people who have seen it describe it as a "mood piece" with shots of the All-Star Game, the Inner Harbor, man-on-the-street interviews and comments from business and political leaders.

Mathias J. DeVito, chairman of Rouse Co., a national real estate developer based in Columbia, will speak on behalf of the local corporate community, stressing the public-private partnerships the league is keen on.

Bruce Hoffman, stadium authority executive director and a father of Camden Yards, will discuss stadium plans.

Belgrad then will deliver the "closing argument." He will note the heritage of sports here and the public financing in place for a new stadium. He will stress the lucrative lease terms that will pay visiting teams $1 million a game and will see the home team become one of the richest in sports within a few years.

An analysis of projected expenses and revenues by The Sun showed the team earning a pre-tax profit of $28 million within a few years.

New evidence

For some competitors, such as Charlotte, N.C., the meetings will be an opportunity to introduce new evidence in their favor. That city recently added some new, and impressive, investors. For other finalists, such as St. Louis, it will be a chance to explain why apparent setbacks -- the city failed to sell out its sky boxes and recently lost its chief investor, James Busch Orthwein -- should not sink its effort.

"We've seen most of these people independently over time so in many cases this will just be a review. But we'll have questions for some," said Rankin Smith of the Atlanta Falcons, a member of the committee of owners overseeing expansion.

One league source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said St. Louis likely will have to come up with additional investors and has been given extra time to file the financial plan that the other cities submitted weeks ago.

Mr. Smith would only say: "It's something we will have to look at. It doesn't help them any."

But for the most part, the cities' selling jobs this week won't change their fundamental strengths and weaknesses. Conventional wisdom, and some educated guessing, suggests

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