Glazers came up with the right price, but at wrong time

John Steadman

November 01, 1993|By John Steadman

So strong is their desire to own a National Football League franchise in Baltimore that Malcolm Glazer & Sons made an offer that seemingly couldn't be refused. Yet it was quickly discarded. The dollars were right; the premise wrong.

What the Glazers proposed was to give each visiting team coming to Baltimore an astonishing $1.5 million per game, which would qualify as a record in take-home pay for any sport. It's

more than double, almost triple, the going rate for playing an NFL game on the road.

The Glazers hoped to bring attention to their effort to win a team for Baltimore but, unfortunately, the suggestion backfired in a rather incongruous way. Instead of helping their cause, it hurt.

Now the Glazers -- father Malcolm, sons Bryan and Joel, and marketing director Bob Leffler -- have issued an apology, or explanation, for what went wrong.

It wasn't intended to be a bribe yet some NFL club owners perceived it as such. "I apologize to Herb Belgrad of the Maryland Stadium Authority," said Leffler. "We should have informed him so he wouldn't have been caught by surprise.

"We told league officials of the plan seven hours before we revealed it to the financial and expansion committees. Since the league people didn't react with any negative feeling we assumed it was acceptable."

The reaction, however, was more negative than positive. Maybe the NFL owners, at this late date in their money-making enterprise, want to regain their amateur standing.

Leffler says the Glazers learned via what he referred to as "combat intelligence" that only one city was going to be picked from the five candidates.

The Glazers' hope was Baltimore would gain an edge by introducing the thought of visiting clubs getting $1.5 million instead of the $1.03 million that had been offered earlier.

Where the Glazers and Leffler went wrong was deciding that the extra payoff was coming from sky-box ticket receipts that

ordinarily stay in the pocket of the home team.

This, in turn, would be tampering with the status quo and created what Leffler admits was an "unintentional misunderstanding."

Since the Glazers and their Baltimore competition, the Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass group, would only get five minutes to make their sales pitch, the idea was to do something dramatic.

"The heart of the Glazers was in the right place," added Leffler. "The information they had was absolutely correct. The NFL named only one team, Charlotte. After Malcolm Glazer spoke, he received applause. We didn't hear of Weinglass being cheered, so they had to like a lot of what Malcolm had to say."

It wasn't until 24 hours later that some NFL owners were unhappy. The money the Glazers were using to sweeten the pie in Baltimore would have come from sky-box income that, by league rules, doesn't go into the normal 60-40 split since that portion ot the ticket income is kept entirely by the home team owner.

Imagine the precedent. If Baltimore and the Glazers were able to do that, then what about all the other cities in the league?

"We took a chance in presenting it this way and take the 'hit' for being wrong," admitted spokesman Leffler.

Leffler, in praising his client, said only two weeks ago, Jerry Clinton, a beer distributor who was trying to put together an ownership combine in St. Louis, called to ask the Glazers to give up on Baltimore. Clinton wanted their money in the St. Louis venture and offered control of the franchise if they would join him.

The Glazers said they only had eyes for Baltimore, which was the same thing they told the league a year ago when the distressed New England Patriots were offered to them. They politely declined.

"It's impossible to knock Charlotte and the job it was able to do," Leffler said. "You can't have sour grapes over the way the Richardson family and Max Muhleman [their marketing man] performed. They worked at it for six years.

"I still believe Baltimore will get a team. If the Glazers had gone to St. Louis, I think it would have been over. As it is, Baltimore is still in the game and can't be counted out."

The men the Glazers were trying to impress, the NFL owners, put the wrong intent on the effort of the Glazers to play Johnny Appleseed with the gate receipts.

Moral of the story: Don't throw silver and gold into the hands of the rich. . . . especially when the ulterior motive is to be accepted in their lodge.

It was a case of being so zealous the Glazers overplayed their hand, which often occurs when a situation becomes emotional and this one certainly is.

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