City weighs changes in its NFL game plan Financial package, ownership picture being re-examined

October 28, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer Staff writer John W. Frece contributed to this article.

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Baltimore's NFL bid -- a game plan promoted for its stability -- failed to overcome its challengers this week and could be in for significant revision.

Instead of standing pat until the league's next expansion vote, leaders of Baltimore's bid will consider changes that could include the possibility of bringing in a new owner, coalescing behind one of two existing ownership groups, or adding financial enhancements.

"You can be certain we're not going to sit back and let the next 30 days go by," said Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman Herbert J. Belgrad. "Our heads are not in the sand."

Any improvements, however, might not be enough to beat St. Louis' bid, which also is expected to grow stronger.

The owners of the NFL's 28 existing teams were scheduled to award a pair of expansion franchises Tuesday. Instead, they voted unanimously to award one team to Charlotte, N.C., and to postpone their decision on the second team until Nov. 30.

Yesterday, NFL officials said they were considering moving up that vote, although Commissioner Paul Tagliabue would not be specific.

Tuesday's decision to delay led to widespread speculation that the league wanted to give St. Louis time to straighten out its package. But the owners denied this.

"This delay is simply because there is not a consensus on the committees," said Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman.

Another NFL source said: "If the vote were tomorrow, I don't think St. Louis would get it. They have to prove to us there is support there."

However, the source said: "If they had come in and impressed the committees the way Charlotte did, we could have had two cities."

Sources familiar with the deliberations Tuesday say that Baltimore received significant support but failed to emerge strongly from the pack, despite serious troubles with St. Louis' bid.

NFL team owners and officials meeting in this Chicago suburb this week stressed that Baltimore is not out of the running.

"I wouldn't be discouraged," said New York Giants co-owner Robert Tisch.

"It's important to note that Baltimore was not unpicked," said New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. "I think Baltimore's presentation was very, very strong, and I think everybody recognizes it would be a great market."

The finalists are now Baltimore, St. Louis, Memphis, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla.

Mr. Belgrad will meet tomorrow with Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Rouse Co. chairman Mathias J. DeVito to examine the city's bid.

"We'll make one last gigantic effort," Mr. Schaefer said. "First of all, we have to find out what happened to us, what was wrong."

Baltimore's financial package generally has been viewed as unassailable: It is offering a publicly financed stadium loaded with cash-generating premium seats. But the application notes that more sky boxes and club seats can be added.

Until St. Louis ran into problems, Baltimore was the only city with more than one ownership group. Although league officials deny it, some critics have suggested a stronger backing of either group -- Florida-based investor Malcolm Glazer or a group headed by retailer Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass -- may help.

Both prospective owners, however, have critics among the owners. There has been speculation that a new investor could emerge and enhance the city's bid.

Neither Mr. Glazer nor Mr. Weinglass are agile public speakers, so their presentations Tuesday were not overwhelming, sources said.

Mr. Glazer turned off some owners with his unorthodox revenue-sharing proposal that would increase the visitor's gate receipts at Baltimore's games to $1.5 million.

Mr. Weinglass tried to deal upfront with questions about his flamboyant personal style by stressing the other members of his group, which includes some blue-blooded business and community leaders not likely to join up with a ne'er-do-well, Mr. Weinglass said.

Both men have passed the league's financial and character background checks. But some owners remain uncomfortable with both and would prefer another choice.

"You may have good groups there now, but another group that may look a little better may help them," said Mr. Tisch.

But Baltimore's prospective owners also had defenders. Buffalo Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. said: "They certainly made a favorable impression with me. I particularly liked Mr. Glazer."

Mr. Tagliabue has stressed to owners the value of the sort of diversity Mr. Weinglass would bring to the league, a source said.

A number of potential owners have approached Baltimore, including Houston-based energy executive Robert McNair and Los Angeles movie producer Jeff Lurie.

Mr. Schaefer went to New York last week to meet with Mr. Tagliabue. He expressed his support for Mr. Weinglass and Mr. Glazer, but also left the door open for another investor, NFL sources said.

Mr. Tagliabue spoke highly of the governor in Tuesday's meeting. Mr. Benson, the Saints owner, also said Mr. Schaefer made a strong impression on the owners.

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