Schaefer, Lerner carry ball and city's expansion hopes

November 29, 1993|By John Steadman

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Now it becomes an act of persuasion. Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the would-be owner of the team, Alfred Lerner, go before the National Football League tomorrow to determine Baltimore's fate for an expansion franchise. What they have to say will go a long way toward determining if they win or lose.

Three long-established club owners, one in the East, another in the Midwest and a third in the far West, have mentioned during the past month the possibility that if there's a deadlock on the expansion site they will propose taking one additional city and name it for the future. But this in no way should be interpreted as representing the thinking of the majority; the plan that's still in place is to add one team, no more.

What would make "expansion of expansion" a conceivable alternative is a logjam, or what in this case could appropriately be called gridlock. The expansion effort may then be enlarged as a compromise. For the present, Baltimore must point toward winning the expansion team that's available in beating out St. Louis, Memphis, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla.

Schaefer and Lerner are the key players for Baltimore. What should Schaefer say? He'll no doubt be considering the content of his comments as he flies to this Chicago suburb today in the company of Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Matt DeVito, Herb Belgrad, Ernie Accorsi and others. Baltimore has an advantage since Schaefer has been in situations like this before. Consider all the times he has addressed corporations and foreign nations on the basis of establishing plants or trade arrangements in Maryland.

Lerner, too, is no neophyte in articulating his position in front of some of the world's important business leaders. Before the NFL it will be more of the same for both Schaefer and Lerner. What they say and how they deliver is of the utmost importance. For Lerner, it will be essential he makes an impact on owners who certainly know his name but have never met him.

It would seem reasonable to expect Schaefer will tell of his extensive relationship with Lerner, pointing out his association with Equitable Bank, Maryland National, the 11,000 Town & Country apartments Lerner owns in the metropolitan area. Also, he will probably emphasize the fact Lerner started his career in Baltimore.

Lerner, presumably, will stress his longtime interest in football, why he wants to restore the NFL to Baltimore and, if successful, his philosophy of operating a franchise. The Expansion/Finance committees meet at 8 a.m., followed by a general session of all the owners in early afternoon.

It's a one-item agenda -- expansion. Unlike the previous meeting of Oct. 26, the league promises only working members of the media will be allowed entrance to the news conference when the announcement is made. This is being done to minimize the bedlam.

Schaefer also might consider telling the owners he's interested foremost in an expansion team and doesn't want to entertain thoughts of clubs moving from elsewhere.

He can talk from personal experience of the trauma that goes with losing a team and that he, as a former mayor of Baltimore and now governor of Maryland, doesn't want to put other cities in the same torture chamber.

This will get the attention of the league because when a team vacates a community and goes elsewhere it creates serious difficulties, the kind of troubles the NFL doesn't want to have to deal with after what happened when two solid franchises, Baltimore and Oakland, defected. It's what the responsible NFL owners prefer to hear.

It's more important for Baltimore to get an expansion club that it can name and nurture than to entice an existing franchise, which moves in like a carpetbagger and sets up shop to tap into a sweetheart financial deal. That's asking for problems, the kind Schaefer, the city, state and NFL don't need.

When it comes to soliciting votes, Baltimore would be in danger of not getting support from two clubs that have selfish thoughts of transferring because they could then avail themselves of a better proposal than what they have. That's the risk here, as it is in any bidding process.

Reiterating, it may be helpful for Schaefer to stress that being included in expansion is his top priority.

How well Schaefer and Lerner complement each other, their projection, sincerity, understanding of the league and, finally, an ability to deliver an overwhelming and compelling message, will result in a win or a loss for Baltimore.

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