Beyond owner, we have it all TV market, stadium deal is best of rest ST. LOUIS STATES ITS CASE NFL EXPANSION THE FINAL COUNTDOWN

October 21, 1993|By Jeff Gordon | Jeff Gordon,St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS -- The argument for NFL expansion to St. Louis is as large and sturdy as the Gateway Arch itself.

1A) We have a new, $260 million indoor stadium under construction, and the project is publicly financed. A hotel tax is a small price for tourists to pay so we can watch football and tractor pulls in climate-controlled comfort.

1B) Our expansion team would benefit from a sweetheart lease, allowing us to pay visiting teams more than $1 million, whether they win, lose or merely cover the spread.

2) We have the largest television market without an NFL team. Give us a team and we promise to have every man, woman and hamster watching football on Sundays instead of wasting time at family functions.

3) We are backed by a key NFL advertiser, Anheuser-Busch. A ticked-off A-B could either shift more money into MTV or, worse, bring Spuds Mac- Kenzie back from the dead.

4) We have a history of supporting competent sports ownership. The hockey Blues will average sellout attendance and the baseball Cardinals regularly draw 2.5 million to 3 million fans to a park with the aesthetic charm of a five-story cereal bowl.

OK, so the football Cardinals left for Phoenix after St. Louis grew weary of Bill Bidwill's weak act . . . but I know you can relate. While working in Charm City, I stood at the gates and watched the Colts pull out. I still get misty-eyed when I think back to the golden Curtis Dickey/Mike Pagel era.

Don't blame us for running Bidwill off and we won't blame you for boycotting Bob Irsay during The Final Days. Deal?

The St. Louis NFL Partnership was a rock a couple months ago, when some of our rich boys began squabbling. We'll try to summarize:

The big money man, James Busch Orthwein, was at odds with the spiritual leader of the expansion bid, beer distributor Jerry Clinton. So Orthwein dumped his control of our expansion bid, ostensibly to concentrate on his revival of the New England Patriots.

Orthwein had aided the NFL by buying the Patriots in a yard sale. Why was he so helpful? So he could hold the Boston area hostage while awaiting NFL expansion to St. Louis. He bought leverage and the chance to profit from a quick turnaround.

A co-founder of the St. Louis NFL Partnership, Fran Murray, had gained control of the Patriots from razor pitchman Victor Kiam. But since he has little actual cash himself, Murray had to yield to one of his financiers -- Orthwein.

Now, Murray has resurfaced with a new wave of investors ready to buy the Patriots and move the club to Hartford, Conn. Meanwhile, Orthwein and Murray retain an interest in the St. Louis bid.

Confusing? Of course, it's confusing.

The principals in our bid keep dozens of lawyers working around the clock, ensuring that these sharks won't bother you. Still another reason to give us a franchise!

Anyway, now we have the underfinanced Clinton running around the country trying to sell his dream. (Football, that is, not a national health care plan.) It seems the NFL didn't let him put the $20 million letter of credit on his Visa card, so he sought new investors who would leave him in control. He supposedly is close to securing Robert C. McNair, a power company executive.

Admittedly, our campaign has been listing in recent weeks. Our luxury suite and club seating sales stalled because getting a sales representative on the phone was a daunting task . . . and then our nightmare was just starting. It seemed ordering a nuclear arsenal was less complicated than getting stadium seats.

The NFL owes St. Louis some slack because we handled their Patriots crisis before it got ugly. And the league (now 0-177 in major court cases) knows we could simply move the Patriots here if we have to.

St. Louis has the stellar facility, market size, fan support and leverage it needs to get a team. It would be a crime to deny a deserving city because some rich guys got into a tiff. Did we mention the free pecan log rolls for the first 21 owners who vote for us?

CLOSING ARGUMENTS

There's less than a week to go before the NFL chooses from

among Baltimore and four other cities for two expansion franchises. This week, The Sun is having a columnist from each )) of Baltimore's rivals write about why his city deserves one of the teams.

* Today: St. Louis

* Tomorrow: Charlotte

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