State might sue NFL

March 31, 1995|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Writer

The Maryland Stadium Authority may file an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL for illegally interfering with Baltimore's attempt to get a team, the new authority chairman, John Moag, said yesterday.

"I began looking at that possibility the first day I became chairman," said Moag, who was appointed to the post Feb. 9 after Herbert J. Belgrad stepped down.

"I've talked to very, very good antitrust lawyers, some of the best in the country, and they're interested in taking it on a contingency basis," Moag said. "Based on these conversations, we definitely have a case."

Moag, who declined to identify the lawyers he talked to, said he'll probably ask the stadium authority board within a month to give him the green light to file a suit.

Moag said the lawsuit would be part of a two-track strategy in an attempt to get Baltimore an NFL team. He said he'll keep trying to persuade an NFL team to move here, even after filing the lawsuit.

The new chairman said he's already made what he termed as "cold calls" to NFL owners and didn't think filing the lawsuit would hurt the city's chances of luring a team.

Moag said the chances of winning a lawsuit against the league were helped when Max Blecher, an attorney for the Los Angeles Rams, and John Shaw, the Rams' executive vice president, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the New York Times last week that the Rams thought that moving to St. Louis instead of Baltimore would help the team's chances of getting the move approved.

Blecher was quoted as saying the Rams were "touted off" Baltimore.

Shaw said: "We respected the league's 75-mile franchise radius rule, we respected the Washington Redskins and turned our attention to St. Louis."

Although the Redskins allegedly opposed Baltimore getting a team, the league no longer gives a team control of a 75-mile radius area.

In theory, a team can move anywhere as long as it can get 23 owners to approve a move. Blecher and Shaw's comments may have indicated that the league had worked behind the scenes to block Baltimore.

"It's the first time anybody has said that publicly," Moag said.

Yesterday, Blecher said he had been quoted correctly, although he added the comments weren't made to him, but to other Rams officials.

"I think the league did suggest if we didn't set our sights on Baltimore, getting approval would be a lot easier," Blecher said.

A league spokesman said yesterday, "There is no merit to what Mr. Blecher has said."

Moag said that he recently called Belgrad, the former chairman, for the file that Baltimore already had put together for filing a lawsuit when the city was bypassed for the two expansion teams in 1993. The league awarded teams to Charlotte, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla., two cities smaller than Baltimore.

The suit wasn't filed at that time because the city began negotiating with the Rams, who eventually decided to strike a deal with St. Louis.

As it turned out, the owners nevertheless voted March 15 to block the Rams' move to St. Louis because it wanted the Rams to boost their resettlement offer of $25 million. The vote was 21-3, with six abstentions. But negotiations are continuing, and the league has called another owners meeting for April 12 in Dallas to discuss the situation.

Joe Alioto, the San Francisco attorney who represented the Los Angeles Raiders when they won the antitrust case to move to Los Angeles and is currently representing former New England Patriots owners Billy Sullivan and Victor Kiam in antitrust suits against the league, said that Baltimore has a good case against the NFL.

"With the evidence they've got, I wonder why they waited so long," he said.

He said that Kiam was stopped by the league from moving the Patriots to Baltimore. "He had great offers from Baltimore and Jacksonville and he was forced to sell for $103 million," Alioto said.

Alioto added that Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke has boasted to former Gov. William Donald Schaefer that he'd keep a team out of Baltimore. "He told the governor that his mother lived to be 103 and that he planned to live to be 104 and that as long as he was alive, there's not going to be an NFL team in Baltimore," Alioto said.

Cooke is 82.

Moag has several candidates to pick from in his search to lure a team to Baltimore because so many are unhappy with their stadium situations.

Among the teams that have publicly indicated they want new or renovated stadiums are the Cincinnati Bengals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Cleveland Browns, the Raiders and the Patriots.

Art Modell, owner of the Browns, said at the March meeting that Cleveland Stadium is outdated. Yesterday, he was quoted in USA Today as saying, "If they [the city of Cleveland] say to me in six months that there is nothing we can do, then I will think about my pursuit of other options."

Mike Brown, owner of the Bengals, said recently that the city of Cincinnati has breached his lease and he's free to move at the end of the 1995 season. Malcolm Glazer, new owner of the Buccaneers, has promised to keep the team there only two years if the city doesn't renovate the stadium or build a new one.

Bob Kraft, the Patriots' owner, has offered to build a stadium in Boston if the city gives him the land and pays for the infrastructure. And Raiders owner Al Davis reportedly has threatened to move the team to Oakland or Baltimore unless a new stadium is built at Hollywood Park.

Baltimore is the only city in the country that has the funding in place for a football stadium, but Moag said he is struggling to keep the Maryland legislature from rescinding the funding bill.

When Moag was asked if he's confident the legislature will keep the funding in place, he said, "I'm relatively confident. I don't think you can ever be confident when you're dealing with state funding."

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