Orioles deserve same sweet deal as Browns' rent-free windfall

November 12, 1995|By John Steadman

Enticing Art Modell to Maryland, with all its enchanting wonders, didn't include ownership of Chesapeake Bay. He is getting almost as good a deal without tossing in even one river or a single tributary. A $200 million stadium, built to his specifications, and rent-free for 30 years. That's the true attraction . . . plus total money accrued from parking and concessions.

It's a spectacular business arrangement for Modell. And also, in a different way, the Baltimore Orioles, who could be the sudden beneficiary of what may amount to an astonishing windfall.

So far, Peter Angelos, the Orioles' owner, has restrained himself from turning cartwheels as he enters the offices at Camden Yards, but he must be in a state of silent euphoria. When Modell showed up with the Cleveland/ Baltimore Browns he thus became, without Angelos' even asking, a real-life fairy godfather.

Angel Modell floats in from the Ohio skies, signs to play in Baltimore and, just like that, the Orioles are in position to receive what amounts to a 100 percent reduction in rent if they want to enforce the contract they've held with the Maryland Stadium Authority since 1988.

The agreement calls for parity in the event a pro football club plays at Camden Yards. So the Orioles, instead of paying close to $6 million in annual rent, now have no such obligation. They deserve, without question, the same consideration as the Browns.

Joe Foss, vice chairman of business and finance for the Orioles, said: "We'll need to make a thorough evaluation with our lawyers. There is no need for urgency. We have been paying about $6 million a year for facility use and will certainly examine the agreement."

As incredible as it seems, the state of Maryland and its residents could gain less financially from two major-league franchises than they were getting from one, unless some post-contract revisions are made. By acceptance of the free rent offer, which is better than a free lunch, football owner Modell puts Angelos in position for an automatic rental reduction simply because he's moving the Browns from Cleveland.

As Modell cashes in, so should Angelos. Both are tenants of the stadium authority and deserve equal treatment.

By the letter of agreement, the stadium authority and director John Moag can't differentiate between the Orioles and any football team taking up residence at Camden Yards. You would normally expect two sources of revenue to be better than one. But not necessarily in this case. The way the contract was written by the late Edward Bennett Williams and one of his legal chiefs, Robert Flanagan, with the stadium authority, gives the Orioles full protection. Quoting from the text of the document, it says:

"MSA [meaning Maryland Stadium Authority] and the Orioles intend for there to be a parity between terms of this agreement and terms of any similar agreement made by MSA or another Maryland public agency with a National Football League team with respect to the football stadium proposed for construction on the Camden Yards site."

Later, it's written: ". . . If the Orioles believe in good faith that such lease or equivalent arrangement provides such tenant or team with terms [including without limitation rent and other concessions] that are not fairly comparable to those accorded to the Orioles in this agreement, then the Orioles may request in writing that MSA modify this agreement to accord the Orioles what the Orioles in good faith believe to be fairly comparable terms. . . ."

In fairness to Angelos, when he bought the Orioles for $173 million, he wasn't doing it because such a protective clause existed. But previous owner Williams covered the Orioles against any other sports franchise receiving lower rental.

Within the past year, Angelos went shopping for a football franchise, specifically the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but didn't connect. Had it happened, he might have been charged with feathering his own nest. Now, however, and with more than a touch of irony, Modell is the point man feeding the ball to Angelos, giving him, in this case, a possible opportunity for free rent.

The Browns' attorney last week confirmed that the football team would take care of operating, maintenance and security costs as part of its deal with Maryland, fees the Orioles let the stadium authority absorb. If the Orioles wish to exercise their "parity" clause, they, too, would have to fund those services, paying much more than the Browns because of baseball's greater number of games. But it hardly seems possible that it would approach the $6 million rent the Orioles have been paying.

Meanwhile, back in Cleveland, some residents want to buy billboards in Baltimore to provide their own introduction of Modell. Several sponsors of Browns games on radio are canceling out because they don't want to pay for on-air commercials after Modell announced the team was leaving.

From still another viewpoint, it's going to dismay Browns followers when they visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame and see a display marked Baltimore Browns. The Hall of Fame, in Canton, a mere jump pass from Cleveland, will show Marion Motley's cleated shoes, Dante Lavelli's helmet and Otto Graham's jersey under the franchise designation of Baltimore Browns. What a pity, but no different from seeing John Unitas, Lenny Moore and the rest of the elite Baltimore Colts identified under an Indianapolis Colts designation.

Strange twists, but nothing quite as astonishing as a football team coming from Cleveland and lowering rent for the baseball team that's already in Baltimore.

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