Waiting on sidelines, Speros ready to give Baltimore CFL ball

November 03, 1993|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

If all else fails in Baltimore's bid to gain an NFL franchise, there is always the Canadian Football League.

And if the Baltimore Bombers don't fly, you could see the Baltimore Fire, outfitted in royal blue jerseys, fire-engine red trim and flames on its helmets.

The Fire is one of the names Jim Speros is considering for a CFL expansion franchise he wants to bring to Memorial Stadium next season. The Blaze, Blitz, Barons, Force and Stallions are others.

A CFL team here is contingent on Baltimore's effort to replace theColts, who left in 1984. The NFL said it will announce its second and final expansion team this month. If Baltimore gets the franchise, Speros, a 34-year-old Northern Virginia businessman, said he would put a CFL team in Memphis or Nashville, Tenn.

If Baltimore doesn't get the NFL franchise, Speros says he will begin negotiations with the city on a five-year lease to play at Memorial Stadium. In the meantime, he is making plans.

"We've stayed quiet," he said. "We still do not want to be a distraction or hurt the effort for an NFL expansion team. But we have to move forward with the organization."

His plans call for a face-lift of the stadium on 33rd Street. Speros' ownership group, Baltimore Football Inc., would upgrade seven sky suites on the mezzanine level, improve locker rooms and the press box and paint all seats. The group also would remove the center-field bleachers to accommodate the CFL's longer playing field (110 yards, plus 20-yard end zones).

Although he declined to identify members of the ownership group, Speros said there would be local investors and that he would hold majority interest.

A native of Potomac, Speros was a linebacker at Clemson and spent five years on the staffs of the Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills. Heis co-founder of Champions Sports, Inc., a company that owns and operates Champions sports restaurants.

Speros spoke with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in August about his project, and submitted a study last week to the mayor's office that projected an economic impact on Baltimore of between $49 million and $52 million. All of Schmoke's efforts have been toward the NFL bid.

Speros sent word to Schmoke on Monday that he still would like to put a team here even if the city goes after an existing NFL franchise such as the Los Angeles Rams.

"If we get established in the community, and they want to bring a [NFL] team in later, fine," Speros said. "We wouldn't want to go anywhere. Baltimore certainly has enough people to support two teams."

Speros said it would cost $7 million to put a team on the field. He would pay $3 million over three years in franchise fees -- compared with the NFL's expansion fee of $140 million -- and has budgeted $4 million for facilities and equipment. Ticket prices would range from $9 end-zone seats to $25 box seats. Speros said he would prefer to operate the stadium himself, relieving the city of the obligation. "Our goal is to make it a win-win situation for the city," he said.

Speros even has begun to talk with prospective head coaches. Among those he's considering are Mike Reilly, offensive coordinator at Southern Cal and former head coach in the World League and CFL; former Penn State quarterback John Hufnagel, the offensive coordinator at Calgary in the CFL; and NFL assistants Tony Dungy of the Minnesota Vikings and Pete Carroll of the New York Jets.

The CFL features 12 men to a side, three downs, a wider and pTC longer field and a wide-open style. If Baltimore joined the CFL, it would play in the Eastern Division with the Toronto Argonauts, Ottawa Rough Riders, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers next season.

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