Baltimore huddling to review change in expansion play Schaefer takes lead to consider options

November 05, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

Is Baltimore's NFL bid ripe for a shake-up?

Strategists -- including a newly active Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- are closed-lipped about their plans, but there is widespread sentiment that the city can't return to the NFL

owners with the same offer that they passed over last week near Chicago.

This has led to speculation that the city's bid could be in for an overhaul, possibly involving the emergence of new or reconstituted investors. The league today is expected to announce a number of parameters for the cities to follow, including whether it would allow changes in ownership groups.

The thinking among many Baltimore partisans is the city has to enhance its package dramatically if it is to top St. Louis, which is bound to have answered many of the questions surrounding its potential team ownership by the time the league next meets.

"They've got to distance themselves from those other groups," said one source involved in expansion. Jacksonville, Fla.,

remains in the running and enjoys some support among the owners, and Memphis, Tenn., is still a finalist, although its group has flirted with dropping out.

NFL sources said Baltimore had significant support among members of the Expansion and Finance committees of owners that jointly are steering the process. But St. Louis also had support, including from NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, and is considered by many the city to beat.

The most obvious change Baltimore could make is in its potential ownership groups. Two are vying to own a team here: Florida-based financier Malcolm Glazer and Baltimore-born retail

executive Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass.

Maryland Stadium Authority chairman Herbert J. Belgrad said all options remain open. Last Thursday, Schaefer convened a summit with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Belgrad and Rouse Co. chairman Mathias J. DeVito to review the group's strategy.

"The governor is making the decisions. It is hands-on," Belgrad said.

He declined to discuss specific options, but several ownership possibilities exist:

* The city could endorse one of the existing groups, lending credibility to the selected owner.

People throughout the league respect Schaefer. His support could eliminate some of the worries over either Glazer or Weinglass. Both men have requested such an endorsement.

But that could subject the stadium authority to legal action from the losing candidate. Both groups paid $50,000 to be part of the effort, although local organizers say they have made it clear from the beginning that this is an option.

One solution: asking one of the candidates to withdraw.

* Seek a new investor. The city could lure a marquee business person of national stature who would put the NFL owners at ease.

Time is short for a new team owner to undergo the necessary background checks, but there are candidates who are familiar to the league. Among them: Robert McNair, a Houston-based energy executive who says he's interested in a Baltimore franchise, and Alfred Lerner, former head of MNC Financial who is a part-owner of the Cleveland Browns.

Another investor who has expressed interest is Jeffery Lurie, a movie producer who has the support of Giants co-owner Robert Tisch. And there has been speculation that J. Wayne Weaver, a man popular within the league, could be tapped if his bid on behalf of Jacksonville is unsuccessful. He lives in Connecticut and has made a fortune in shoe retailing.

Two men involved in Weinglass' group also have been mentioned as possible heads of another investment group: Crown Central Petroleum chief Henry Rosenberg and H&S Bakery head John Paterakis.

Both men are wealthy and have expressed some interest in owning a team. But they have told associates that they are committed to the Weinglass group, and they may be legally entwined with it through the Weinglass partnership agreement.

The problem with any change such as this is the appearance of chaos, something that may have kept St. Louis from getting a team last week. "At this point, the biggest advantage we have over St. Louis is we have a steady core," said a source affiliated with one of the ownership groups.

* Stay the course.

This seems the least likely, if only because Schaefer is not one for taking such challenges sitting down. There is also a sense that Baltimore's weakness in geography -- its proximity to teams in Washington and Philadelphia is a drawback -- can only be overcome with a boffo package.

Neither Weinglass nor Glazer has attracted wide support among NFL owners. Glazer's offer last week to enhance the visitors' gate with an unorthodox ticket-revenue-sharing plan offended some owners. Weinglass' style has left others uncomfortable to admit him to the fraternity.

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