Fan fun is only benefit of NFL team

January 09, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

Putting up the most money, an incongruous $210 million, may not win Peter Angelos a bid for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it's motivated by a desire to right a wrong and restore Baltimore to the National Football League.

Imagine paying out that much for the right to have a football team when actually owning a franchise provides only a toy for the man who has everything.

Being a member of the NFL does only one thing for a city, and that is it makes almost everyone (excluding Jim Speros, owner of Baltimore's Canadian League outfit) feel good. But that, in reality, is the end of it.

Is Baltimore any better or worse from having lost the Colts to Indianapolis? Has the absence of the NFL in Baltimore made neighbors more friendly, improved the crab harvest, bettered education or curtailed crime statistics? The answer is a resounding "no." Football is recreation; nothing more.

Association with the NFL does provide identification in a major league and gives the public a rooting interest in the standings. As for helping a city economically, it's so minimal it's hardly worthy counting.

There's no parallel to baseball, which is played 162 times a year. With NFL games on television, only a handful of fans of the visiting club follow the team on road trips. They don't fill up motels or restaurants as college games often do.

And the team -- executives, coaches, players and the media -- constitute, at the most, a traveling party of 75. This hardly creates a ripple. So what does a membership in the NFL actually get you? Nothing more than it creates a positive psychological state of mind. In reality, there's little advantage that comes to John Q. Citizen, who gets the right to be charged unrealistic prices for tickets.

Angelos won acclaim for being bold enough to buy the Orioles for $173 million at public auction.

Now, it's going to be difficult, if morality counts for anything, for the trustees of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to turn their backs on their hometown, regardless of price, and allow the team to move. This is where the late Hugh Culverhouse introduced pro football and Tampa Bay, considering its consistently poor on-the-field performances, in some years drew crowds of more than 70,000.

Still, there's no one with a kernel of a brain who will say Angelos DTC will not be able to pull it off because when it comes to money and getting what he wants there is no limit to his resources and resolve.

At first, the citizens of Tampa Bay thought he was some Texas-type braggart, all talk and no financial substance, who lived in Baltimore and when it came time to put up, he wouldn't be there. Now they know differently and realize that what it costs is the least of Angelos' concerns.

The league doesn't want Tampa Bay to take a hike to Baltimore. Yet, at the same time, Angelos is doing all the NFL owners he desires to join a momentous financial favor. By his mere presence in the process, offering a reported $200 million-plus, he is escalating the estimated value of every team.

Right now, the NFL wishes it charged more than the $140 million it gained for each of the two new expansion franchises in Charlotte and Jacksonville. If it had awarded Baltimore a club instead of Jacksonville, the NFL wouldn't be faced with Angelos' attempt to buy Tampa Bay.

Speros, owner of the Baltimore Football Club of the CFL, realizes Angelos will put him out of business if Tampa Bay defects. Speros also has mentioned that if Angelos gets a team it will reduce his rental at Camden Yards for the Orioles. The contract for football, which is virtually a giveaway, means baseball costs automatically will be reduced since both franchises must be charged the same fees.

This correlates, the way Speros reasons, for Angelos' financial deal to be vastly improved. He would start making up in income from the Orioles what he had to pay to get the Buccaneers. When Speros provided the hypothesis a month ago, he didn't sound as if he were engaging in mere hyperbole.

It would mean Angelos was over-spending in his quest for the Buccaneers but, in the long run, it would work out to be an even sweeter "sweetheart deal" all the way around. In effect, one team would help pay for the other and vice-versa.

Of course the NFL frowns on multi-sport ownership, but that could change since the Miami Dolphins are on a tentative agreement with Wayne Huizenga holding control of the hockey and baseball clubs and also owning the Dolphins and the stadium where they play.

Is it good for the fans to have the same man controlling more than one franchise? Absolutely not. When that happens, the public is then placed in position to be sandbagged. It is a more equitable arrangement if different ownerships prevail.

Angelos is already an established folk hero on the crab flats of the Chesapeake by virtue of buying the Orioles. On the popularity scale his standing will be more than doubled if Tampa Bay's handlers of the Culverhouse estate say he just made a proposal they can't refuse -- which would mean the NFL, reluctant or not, was forced into taking its first step toward coming back to Baltimore.

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