State has little to offer Speros Governor promises no help for Stallions

November 22, 1995|By John Frece | John Frece,SUN STAFF Contributing writer Drake Witham provided information for this article.

Two days after winning the CFL championship, Stallions owner Jim Speros asked for some financial help from the state, but got little more than moral support from Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Flush from his team's Grey Cup victory in Saskatchewan, Speros arrived at the State House yesterday in the hope of persuading the state to guarantee minimum attendance at Stallions games next season. At the least, he said, he would like the state to pick up some or all of the $400,000 a year his team spends on operational costs at Memorial Stadium.

Instead, the governor told him there was not much financially the state could do. He suggested that Speros talk with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Maryland Stadium Authority chairman John A. Moag to see if there was anything they could do to keep the Stallions in Baltimore.

Speros, his two-year-old franchise's financial viability suddenly threatened by the impending arrival the Cleveland Browns, said he must decide within the next two weeks whether he will move the team elsewhere. He said he has been approached by officials from a half-dozen cities, but declined to identify them. He met with officials from Houston two weeks ago.

"We have to move quickly," said Speros, who is scheduled to meet with Moag today. "[The governor] knows my time frame. Truthfully, my operation is at a dead standstill. We will not collect any ticket revenue money or start spending any of that money for 1996 until I know I'm going to be here," he said.

He later announced a ticket campaign drive that will run from Dec. 1 to Jan. 5, with the goal of selling 20,000 season tickets. "Twenty thousand saves our Stallions," Speros said. "If the state and city do their jobs and our fans step up, we are staying.

"I think we offer an affordable product for those who maybe can't afford the NFL," he said, adding that his team has been good for the city's economy. He admitted, however, that he is worried about losing fans and sponsors to the Browns.

Although the state has just approved the $200 million stadiu deal for the Browns and is separately offering at least $50 million and possibly even more to lure the Washington Redskins to a stadium site in Prince George's County, Glendening said the state is not guaranteeing attendance for any team.

"Obviously, I'm inclined to try to help with promotion of ticket sales and corporate support [for the Stallions]," Glendening said. "In addition to which, we have roughly $2 million this year [already budgeted] that we're investing in Memorial Stadium for maintenance and improvements there."

"But there just will not be any major state dollars we will be able to put up for this," the governor said.

The Stallions and the city have secured the rights to bring the Grey Cup game to Baltimore in 1997, an event Speros said he has been counting on to wipe out the debts he has accumulated so far.

"We're going to search for an appropriate way of helping the football club be here. Explore all the options," Speros said. "That's why the meeting with Moag is important now. The stadium authority people are the ones to turn to because they're going to be operating Memorial Stadium for the future."

Moag said yesterday he did not know exactly what he can do for the Stallions, but said he was willing to hear Speros' ideas. He said the stadium authority has no direct fiduciary responsibility to the Stallions because their stadium lease is with the city of Baltimore.

The stadium authority has told Speros that the Browns have first priority when it comes to scheduling games in Memorial Stadium the next two years, while the state builds the new stadium at Camden Yards.

However, Speros said his team has priority for scheduling games at Memorial Stadium, and he might be right.

The team's five-year lease states that the Stallions "shall have exclusive rights of the stadium" for its regularly scheduled home games, playoff games and championship games.

If the CFL gets its 1996 schedule out before the NFL does, then he could argue that the Stallions have the right to those dates. The CFL schedule is due to be completed at the end of December, though the league's 1995 schedule was not finalized until April 1995. The NFL schedule comes out each year in late April.

"Because it happened so quickly with the Browns we didn't have time to work it out with Jim Speros," said Alison Asti, counsel to the Maryland Stadium Authority. "We thought we could coordinate and cooperate. We certainly didn't think he would hold us hostage over this."

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