On the NFL merry-go-round -- again Secret negotiations: Changing economics, governor's deadline offer ray of hope.

November 04, 1995

YES, WE HAVE been down this road before. Baltimore, once again, is courting National Football League teams. Several have been in discussions with the Maryland Stadium Authority. Cleveland's team may be close to an agreement. But no one is throwing confetti yet.

This region is bitterly disillusioned, having been burned so many times before in the quest for another NFL team. Even as these secret negotiations continue, there are disturbing reports of an obstructionist Paul Tagliabue of the NFL trying to put Baltimore at the end of the line as a half-dozen teams abandon their cities in search of greener playing fields.

Skepticism in dealing with the NFL is always justified. Yet there ,, are compelling reasons for hope. The economics of professional football have shifted dramatically; numerous teams are treading water; fan support is slipping sharply in some cities; voters and legislatures are rejecting requests for modern football stadiums that would boost local team profits.

Meanwhile, a new strategy by Gov. Parris Glendening and MSA chairman John Moag seems to be working. They are approaching this as a straight business matter. Negotiations are private. And they have set a deadline that owners looking for the best deal cannot ignore.

Baltimore is the only city with public financing in place for a $200 million football complex (at Camden Yards). The lucky owner would reap $30 million a year. It seems an irresistible offer. But the catch is that Mr. Glendening has set a Dec. 31 deadline. After that time, he says the stadium offer will disappear. No wonder negotiations have heated up in recent weeks.

We may have definitive answers as soon as next week. Then again, final action might be delayed till the NFL's regular season ends. The clock is ticking, though. Let's hope this latest ride on the NFL merry-go-round ends happily.

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