Expansion hopefuls ready to pour out even more tribute

Phil Jackman

September 20, 1993|By Phil Jackman

During the halftime show of the "NFL Today" on CBS yesterday, there was a short piece detailing how the five cities vying for two expansion franchises will be in Chicago tomorrow and Wednesday bearing gold, frankincense and myrrh for the league.

An unofficial count is that this will constitute the 147th time the Final Five of Baltimore, Charlotte, Jacksonville, Memphis and St. Louis (listed alphabetically) is being commanded to prostrate themselves in total subjugation to the NFL.

No one will ever be able to accuse the league of a "rush to judgment" when it comes to expansion, it being 20 years since the NFL decided to pass out secret de-coder rings to its last pair of members, Seattle and Tampa Bay.

There's a reason why proposed expansion proceeds at glacier-like speed and it has nothing to do with the men calling the shots, the owners, wanting to make the right decisions. Extortion isn't something you can pull off by simply grabbing a gun and heading for the nearest convenience store. It requires an intricate and well-conceived game plan that takes much time to prepare and carry out, sort of like a sting.

How impressive would it be if the NFL decided to expand, appointed a committee to look at the applications and made its choices within a reasonable amount of time, say a year? Totally unimpressive. Enter the officious process which started most of a decade ago.

By stringing along a bunch of cities -- Memphis, for instance, is always a good bet to join the chase even though it has virtually no chance of ever being selected -- the NFL forces the candidates to begin bidding wildly against one another and piling on the perks.

Several times since 1980, the league has seen owners orchestrate bidding frenzies among cities designed to extract every last cent from the communities. "Hey, why shouldn't we get in on the act?" the folks in the NFL office probably asked themselves.

When the process started, a stadium, preferably fairly new, was probably all that was required of the candidates. That, a &L decent-sized television market and an owner with an impressive Dun & Bradstreet and some enthusiasm.

As time and the ever-mounting number of formal presentations went on, the bidders got the idea of what really was being requested and required: everything that isn't nailed down and the tools necessary to rip up the things that are.

Baltimore, for one, has concurred. Not only is a publicly financed stadium ready to go when and if approval comes down from the owners' meeting Halloween week (trick or treat), the terms of the team's lease take your breath away.

The city and state get absolutely nothing from the tenant: no rent, no percentage of income from parking and concessions, no revenue from the sponsor's signs that will be littered throughout the edifice. For all you (as taxpayers) do, the team will hand over the customary amusement tax, no doubt because no way around it could be found.

Most important and the thing the people working to get a franchise here think will put Baltimore over the top is what visiting teams to the Camden Yards Complex will take out of here: a guaranteed $1 million, not to mention the assured win against an eyesore expansion team.

Let's see those jokers try to match that bribe.

The home/away split in the NFL is 60/40, meaning if the visitor gets $1 million the home team will be good for $1.5 million per game. And remember, the home team doesn't have to split income from luxury boxes. No wonder it's being claimed that a team here figures to be one of the most profitable in sports.

As Herb Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, has said many times, "They [the owners] are not going to be persuaded by rhetoric or glitzy films. They are going to look at the dollars and cents."

Just to make sure, Baltimore will open its presentation with a short film tomorrow, produced at a mere $50,000. No doubt Mel Gibson, Sharon Stone, Tom Cruise and Michelle Pfeiffer are starring in the six-minute tease.

Owners from the expansion and finance committees, on hand to listen to the presentations, are assuring that none of the five cities is "a lock." Which, translated, lets one and all know that they can keep those bribes a-coming.

Baltimore, it seems, hasn't upped the ante much lately, suggesting it just might be time to pull out all the stops. Since it's owners who will be bringing teams here doing the voting, why not add expenses to the $1 million appearance fee and guarantee them victory for at least the first two seasons?

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