Backup Speros doesn't go to bench quietly

November 18, 1995|By Ken Rosenthal

REGINA, Saskatchewan -- Jim Speros can't read.

He thought his agreement with the CFL gave him the territorial rights to Hampton Roads, Va. Now he thinks his lease at Memorial Stadium gives him scheduling priority over an NFL team.

He's wrong, on both counts.

Perhaps Gov. Parris Glendening should present him with a pair of eyeglasses when they meet Tuesday, the better to help Speros discern fine print. That's about all the Stallions owner will get out of the state.

Speros being Speros, he will not go quietly. He held a morning news conference yesterday for reporters gathered to cover the Grey Cup, opening with a 20-minute stream of consciousness, then talking himself into his usual corner.

It's sad, because perhaps the Stallions could survive in Baltimore, attracting their 20,000 working-class die-hards while the bankers and lawyers flocked to Camden Yards for the Browns. But Speros is out for himself now.

In truth, he was out for himself all along, but he satisfied the masses by fighting for the Colts' name and making the Stallions a CFL power. Now he's burning every last bridge, and his fans are going to suffer.

"I'm disappointed the governor did not come to one game this year," Speros said yesterday. "I realize he has a very busy schedule, but that's kind of a slap in my face."

Doesn't that tell you something, Jim?

"It may," Speros conceded.

By CFL standards, Speros is a visionary. By every other standard, he has become a nuisance, a wanna-be big-timer growing more delusional by the minute as he plans for his big showdown with the state.

Wouldn't you love to hear Glendening's reaction when Speros puffs out his chest and demands that the state guarantee sales of 20,000 season tickets?

"Why would we do that?" Maryland Stadium Authority chairman John Moag asked yesterday. "We wouldn't give Art Modell a guarantee."

Not to worry: Speros figures he could sell 15,000 season tickets, so the state contribution would be a mere $1 million per season.

He said the state could defray the cost by giving him some of the Browns' permanent seat license revenue, a concept that drew outright laughter from Moag.

Here's something even funnier:

"Maybe the Stallions should play at the new facility as well," Speros said. "Wouldn't our season-ticket holders feel special, to be able to go down there?"

Sure, Jim.

And you'd feel extra special, charging Browns' prices.

The Browns are going to play two seasons at Memorial Stadium, then move to the U.S. Mint at Camden Yards. The Stallions also play at Memorial, and their lease runs through 1998.

Speros can't compete. He knows he can't compete. So, he's angling for a buyout, displaying all the subtlety of a carnival barker, making threats like the NFL carpetbagger he longs to be.

"I'm in no way going to roll over and say, 'Here you go, Art Modell, push us out of the way,' " Speros said. "I will use the leverage we need to make sure we protect our football franchise."

What, exactly, is Speros' leverage? Well, he has the lease. He did put money into the stadium, approximately $1.6 million, by his latest guess-timate. But scheduling priority?

Uh, the buck stops here.

"It's in my lease, they can't do anything about it. It's already in my lease," Speros said.

Wrong.

It's in the Browns' lease, but not the Stallions'.

"The Browns have priority in scheduling," said Alison Asti, counsel to the Maryland Stadium Authority. "We're going to have to find a way to provide that."

Asti said the Stallions' lease doesn't specifically address scheduling. It merely states that the team has the stadium exclusively on the days of its games -- and gives the city the right to use the stadium "for any purpose whatsoever" on all other days.

Speros evidently is banking on the CFL schedule getting released before the NFL's, so he could shout, "Gotcha!" But he's assuming the CFL will figure out which teams will return, and where they'll be playing, in short order.

Don't count on it.

Speros has said he will need at least 12 home Sunday afternoon dates during the CFL season. He can alternate with the Browns, but fantasize as he might, he's not going to dictate the NFL schedule.

If he wants to stay, fine.

Stay, and suck it up.

As Moag said: "The governor and mayor have been pretty clear with him -- 'You've said before you can be competitive -- go ahead and play ball. We're not going to try to screw it up.' "

But, most likely, they're not going to help him, either.

Speros claims the city and state are hungry for the revenue that the 1997 Grey Cup would provide -- "it would be a bonanza for the city of Baltimore," he cried, as if the city's fiscal health depended on it.

Surely, he's owed something. But considering the relative insignificance of his team, how much?

Speros said he will lose between $1.3 million and $1.5 million this season. He said his paid attendance declined by 5,200 per game. He said he gave away an average of 7,000 tickets, with another 4,500 going to corporate sponsors.

He always thought it would take between three and five years for the CFL to catch on in Baltimore, and now he's going to lose any momentum he might have gained from a possible Grey Cup victory.

It's all such a shame, but Speros knew the NFL might return, in which case he'd be doomed. He should accept his fate with dignity. Instead, he's taking the low road out of town.

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