Take a seat: It'll be a hot ticket to ride

November 08, 1995|By John Eisenberg

You can almost hear the gears changing as our city begins to confront the reality of a new football life.

This guilt about having stolen the Browns from Cleveland? We've been there, done that. It's time to move on to the crux of the matter.

Tickets, baby.

Because, let's face it, as much as any fan with a conscience will always feel guilty about benefiting from Cleveland's loss, how can a piece of moral sentiment possibly compare with the prospect of buying two on the 40-yard line, bubba?

It's wrong, but don't blame me. That's just the way it is.

Personally, I'd feel better if we suffered at least a little longer before getting so serious about claiming our own, private pieces of our new toy known as Art's World. But I recognize I'm way in the minority on this issue and fans all over town are already getting down to the basic question: "What does this Browns thing mean to me?"

Yes, they were posing that and other questions yesterday, in their minds if not on their lips. Do we want to buy tickets? If so, how many? Can we really afford that? Or do we take our stand against the greed in pro sports and turn our backs?

Tickets, tickets, tickets. That word and one other phrase -- permanent seat licenses -- will dominate the talk in this town for months and even years to come. My kitchen table has already been host to a couple of, ah, exploratory conversations about whether to take the plunge. You, too, no doubt.

The fundamental issue, of course, is that the price is going to be high, to say the least. It is going to cost a lot more to cheer for the Browns at the new stadium than it did to cheer for the Colts at Memorial Stadium.

The problem won't be the basic cost, the actual prices of the tickets themselves. They'll reportedly average around $31, and that's decent, even a bargain considering the absurd prices paid in NBA arenas. Anyone complaining about a $31 NFL ticket is living in the past.

But it'll cost much more than $31 to get your rear into a seat because of the permanent seat license, which is a fancy name for a one-time fee -- probably somewhere between $250 and $3,000, depending on the seat -- that consumers will have to pay to have the right to buy a ticket. For those scoring at home, it's called extortion.

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, an ex-Colt, came up with the idea. It'll probably take him to the commissioner's chair one day. The Panthers sold 50,000 of the 60,000 they offered for their new stadium. The Rams sold out all 72,000 for their new dome in St. Louis. The Raiders had trouble in Oakland, selling only 36,000.

It's a brutal concept as it's being played out in Baltimore, forcing fans to pay extra for the right to sit in a stadium they're already funding as taxpayers. There are those who believe that irony and the high price will turn off enough fans to turn the idea into a disaster. To which I say: Are you kidding?

So many fans called and faxed the Maryland Stadium Authority seeking tickets yesterday that a fax machine burned out and executive director Bruce Hoffman was unable to dial out. Hoffman said he had 356 messages on his voice mail. That's one section in the new stadium right there!

Sure, that's just the emotion of the announcement playing out; most fans will take a harder look at the situation before committing so much money to watching football.

But count me out of the faction that thinks the Browns might actually fail at the gate because of the high prices or the rampant greed in the NFL. The unfortunate truth is that few people really care about that stuff. The appetite for pro football is huge here and everywhere else, huge beyond all logic and reasonableness.

And if you hadn't noticed, fans will pay almost anything for the right to sit in a fancy new stadium with clean corridors and good food.

Jim Speros estimated the other day that the city's core football following numbered about 50,000 fans. Maybe so. But what he didn't mention was that a new stadium and a fresh team will draw from all sorts of new sources. Redskins fans tired of sitting on the waiting list. York County, Pa., now an Orioles hotbed. Delaware.

In other words, there are plenty of fans to go around. Plenty of fans to turn the Baltimore Browns into a raging success.

If you want tickets, you had better start asking yourself the hard questions now. Because no, yesterday was not too soon.

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