Schaefer's gamble worth the risk

February 16, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

So now Jack Kent Cooke is dropping hints about building his Temple of Greed in Northern Virginia. Obviously, Gov. Schaefer is on the right track as he pulls out every stop to bring an NFL team to Baltimore.

Cooke wants to build a monument to himself in Laurel, wants the state to help pay for the infrastructure, wants to erect 330 luxury boxes and 15,000 club seats in a stadium designed to gouge the public.

This is good for Maryland?

Senate president Mike Miller argues that it would be "insane" to chase away Cooke, the state's best hope for obtaining an NFL franchise. But Schaefer believes Baltimore is so close to getting a team, the risk is worthwhile.

It's a high-stakes gamble -- the state might be left with only the

CFL -- but why shouldn't Schaefer go for it? As usual with The Guv, it's not just political, it's personal. If Cooke doesn't like it, he can take a hike.

With Baltimore's chances of landing an NFL team apparently improving, the Redskins owner is now issuing threats -- "I am not unmindful of the warm interest to locate in Virginia," he said yesterday. No self-respecting legislator -- not even one from the D.C. suburbs -- can honestly say he'd be a better owner for the state than Peter Angelos.

That apparently is the choice facing Schaefer, unless Al "Just Move, Baby" Davis pulls another fast one and brings the Los Angeles Raiders to Baltimore (the man scorned by the NFL, the city spurned by the NFL, Paul Tagliabue's worst nightmare).

Angelos' pursuit of three different NFL teams was persuasive enough for legislative leaders to grant a deadline extension. Maybe now thelegislature will return to the original goal under expansion: Baltimore or bust.

This isn't simply a question of public vs. private financing. The football stadium in Baltimore would cost the state $165 million. Estimates for Cooke's infrastructure range from $36 million to $125 million, and the state would be stuck with some of it.

Granted, there would be money left over for other projects, but if Baltimore failed to get a team, the entire cost of the stadium would become available. Money to play with in an election year -- would that be such a horrible outcome for all those pro-Redskins legislators?

The economic impact of an NFL franchise is overrated. A team plays only 10 home games a year, including two in the preseason. The number of jobs created is minimal. And the leisure dollars are spent on other activities (restaurants, movies, etc.) if no team exists.

Indeed, as everyone in Baltimore knows, the true benefit of a team is psychological. The Redskins wouldn't provide that boost playing in Cooke's Temple of Greed -- not to the city, and not to the state, either.

The only tickets Cooke would make available to Baltimore are in the high-priced luxury boxes and club-seating areas. Middle-income Redskins fans in the D.C. suburbs also would get shut out, unless they already owned season tickets.

The new stadium will seat 78,600, but because of the unprecedented number of luxury boxes and club seats, only 59,300 regular seats will be available. That's only 3,000 more than RFK Stadium -- not enough to satisfy the 40,000 fans on the Redskins' waiting list, much less anyone else.

It would make sense for Schaefer to embrace the Redskins if Cooke planned to follow the Orioles' strategy, incorporating both the Baltimore and Washington markets. But Cooke's only interest in Baltimore is the corporate community, the better to help him sell out his luxury boxes.

A team in Baltimore would divert Cooke's most lucrative source of income, and the mere possibility of one coming might be enough to force him to build elsewhere. It's a race, all right, and Schaefer is trying to slip past him before reaching the checkered flag.

This is the governor's last chance. A Camden Yards arena would have been the perfect compromise, but Angelos apparently didn't want such fierce competition for the Orioles, and Abe Pollin apparently didn't want to move the Bullets and Capitals to Baltimore.

So here Schaefer is, with a new deadline looming. In a perfect world, the legislature would give him until the end of the year, so teams interested in moving could play the 1994 season without alienating their fans. But this isn't a perfect world. This is bare-knuckles politics.

Miller says it would be "insane" to chase away Cooke. Schaefer knows better. First, Cooke poisoned the city's expansion chances. Now, he wants to build the Temple of Greed. It would be even more insane to embrace him.

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