Heating Up Team Quest

April 25, 1995|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer

When John A. Moag Jr., the new chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, declared publicly that he was exploring a lawsuit against the NFL -- the object of his and Baltimore's desire -- the comments jarred even supporters.

"I don't think it's a very good idea. One, I don't think there's anything there. And two, that's no way to make friends," said New York Giants co-owner Robert Tisch, who provided one of two committee votes for Baltimore's losing expansion bid two years ago.

But Moag, 40, says he's serious about hauling the league to court and leaves no doubts that such feather-ruffling may become more common now that he has taken over the stadium authority from longtime chairman Herbert J. Belgrad.

"This is a new beginning, a totally new approach than what was used in the past. I'm going to go after it hard and do my best and we'll see what happens," said Moag, a brash, politically connected Washington lobbyist who acknowledges more familiarity with the halls of Congress than the politics of the NFL.

But friends, such as Moag's political mentor, Steny Hoyer, the eight-term Prince George's County congressman and high-ranking Democrat, predict Moag will learn quickly and prove effective.

"He's a terrific fellow, very, very able. A very quick study," said Hoyer, who says he recommended Moag for the post to Gov. Parris Glendening.

By his own admission, Moag doesn't have much time to get a team here. He figures the General Assembly will lose patience with the effort and rescind stadium funding next year (Baltimore lawmakers dispute this, saying they can hold off threats, even though some raiding of the money was approved last session).

"I think our ability to hold onto the money through the next legislature does not look very good unless we have a strong prospect," Moag said. "If at this time next year we have the status quo, I have very little credibility to claim we have much reason to continue."

That's a significant departure from his predecessor. Belgrad, a former Ethics Commission head, counseled patience and diligently pursued leads for years in his efforts to win a franchise for the city. Belgrad retired from the Stadium Authority with the change of gubernatorial administrations.

"I couldn't be more serious about a lawsuit," Moag said. "I'm convinced . . . . that we have a case. I don't see it as a hammer. We've been using the carrot too long."

His legal research is still exploratory, and a decision to file has not been made, but Moag has the support of the governor in pursuing the matter. Glendening said in a recent interview that, despite opposition from legislative leaders, he supports exploring a lawsuit against the league to be sure Baltimore was treated fairly.

Moag says the city's strategy, which entailed currying favor with the NFL's commissioner and team owners, was appropriate when Baltimore was a candidate for an expansion franchise but may not suit a city trying to pry a team out of its hometown.

Several franchises, including the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Phoenix Cardinals and Houston Oilers, are unhappy with their stadiums and are considered relocation prospects. Moag has met with Bengals president Mike Brown and told him he needs to know the team's plans soon.

"There are other opportunities out there and it's incumbent upon me to pursue them. [The Bengals] have got to get off the dime and let me know if they are serious," Moag said.

He declined to provide a deadline, but points out that the governor begins preparing his budget in November and would have to know before then if he will be building a football stadium or other sports facility, Moag said.

Trying new strategy

A professional basketball/hockey arena has been discussed as an alternative use for the money.

"You have to look at everything," Moag said. "With the time constraints I think we have politically, and the patience of our fans, I think a new strategy is required. I'm taking more of an aggressive approach because I have to."

Orioles owner and prospective football investor Peter Angelos said: "I think he's going to be a very energetic and dynamic chairman. He wants to get things done."

Moag has spoken with sports marketing consultant Max Muhleman, a Charlotte, N.C.-based strategist who helped bring both the NBA and NFL to Charlotte and assisted St. Louis' efforts to land the Rams. Hiring an outsider would represent a change from Baltimore's largely home-grown effort.

He said he hopes Muhleman can help him develop the contacts and insider knowledge Moag knows he will need to bring a team to Baltimore.

New system to learn

Moag has little background in football, although he says he attended some Baltimore Colts games as a youth growing up in Baltimore County and attending Loyola High School.

"I'm not much of a jock," he said. "The only sports I excelled in were body surfing and paddle tennis."

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