Will Rams' short list be long on frustration?

October 02, 1994|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer

Here we go again.

For the fifth time in the past decade -- and the third time in the past year -- Baltimore finds itself a finalist for an NFL franchise.

And even if the city is not the favorite to get the Los Angeles Rams, it is among a very short list of finalists.

But, as always, there are complications.

What about the Washington Redskins? What if the Los Angeles Raiders leave, too? Does the hometown offer by Southern California fans measure up? Will Rams owner Georgia Frontiere eventually agree to give up controlling interest?

It's enough to worry even Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the eternal Baltimore booster. Recently the governor said he sensed league pressure to take the team to St. Louis -- something the league and Rams deny.

Meanwhile, fans in Baltimore seem to have grown weary of the chase.

"After a while, you get sick and tired of reading the same stuff," said former Colt and Hall of Famer Art Donovan. "When it happens, I'll go down and buy some tickets. In the meantime, life goes on."

Rams officials have said they will make a decision in the next month or so, promising an end to this round of wondering.

"I think things are starting to move now," said Rams spokeswoman Heidi Sinclair.

With Hartford, Conn., apparently out of the running, there are three finalists: Baltimore, St. Louis and Anaheim, Calif., the team's current home.

The team won't reveal its preference, but several sources who have spoken with Rams officials say that while Baltimore -- which appeared to hold a slight edge a few months ago -- remains in the running, St. Louis has advanced significantly in recent weeks.

But the Midwestern city, everyone's favorite in last year's NFL expansion, has lost these races before.

On its face, Anaheim's offer falls far short of the deals advanced in Baltimore and St. Louis, where new stadiums are available for little or no rent. But there are advantages to staying home, including saving $30 million in bond repayments that would be payable to Anaheim and any relocation fee the NFL may charge.

"We have never felt in Orange County that it was necessary to match dollar for dollar the wildest offer to the Rams," said sports agent Leigh Steinberg, leader of the Anaheim group. "The team has been here for 50 years, and for many of those years has been loyally supported."

The team's response, however, has been cool.

Baltimore and St. Louis have in place the public stadium funding that can make the team one of the most profitable in sports. Almost identical in size, they represent the nation's two largest markets without NFL teams.

St. Louis' big drawing card is a stadium that will be ready for next season. The domed structure, built to double as a convention center, offers all the modern amenities: sky boxes, premium seats carrying annual fees, state-of-the-art concessions and fan comforts.

St. Louis still is preparing its offer, which is expected to be delivered next week, but it is expected to include the use of the stadium for $25,000 a game, or $250,000 a season. That rent is insufficient to cover the cost of games, which will have to be made up by convention business. Because of its dual purpose, the stadium will be available to the team only on game days, and it comes with no team-controlled parking, offices or practice facility.

The city figures it will have to raise another $70 million to build a practice facility and offices and settle legal issues related to the stadium lease and move from Anaheim.

Among the ideas being explored: selling the naming rights to the stadium and requiring season-ticket holders to buy a special seat license, similar to the plan Charlotte, N.C., is using to finance its entire stadium, said St. Louis County Executive George R. Westfall.

St. Louis has hired seat-license guru Max Muhleman, the consultant who helped put Charlotte over the top in the expansion race last year.

Investors, led by Wal-Mart heir E. Stanley Kroenke, are offering to purchase a minority position in the team, but eventually want to have the opportunity to acquire control of the team -- something current owner Frontiere is resisting. Baltimore's potential investor, Orioles owner Peter Angelos, also wants eventual control of the team.

Murray part of equation

A potential cloud on the St. Louis horizon rose last week when Fran Murray, a former investor in St. Louis' expansion effort and former minority owner of the New England Patriots, said he wanted his expansion expenses paid for and maintains he controls a portion of the lease.

St. Louis organizers agreed to pay Murray's erstwhile partner, Jerry Clinton, up to $8 million for his share of the stadium lease, and thought they had settled a long-running problem.

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