Had Willie Sutton and Jesse James been around to avail themselves of the opportunity, it's reasonable to expect they would have found a way to gain control of a National Football League franchise. It's easier than robbing banks. And the risk factor is nil.
This all has to do with a controversial scheme the NFL is perpetuating that's referred to as a permanent seat license, which means you, the fan, must first pay a fee, usually from $250 to $4,500, before getting the right to buy a ticket. The term permanent seat license, more commonly known as a PSL, is a terrible misnomer. What PSL more appropriately suggests is a form of permanent seat larceny.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, troubled by the reaction the Cleveland Browns have caused themselves and the league by announcing their defection to Baltimore, should put an end to this intolerable practice that smacks of extortion. It's a holdup. Pure and simple.
It's also degrading to the league; and Tagliabue, now that he knows what it is, should issue an order to terminate the practice. Three years ago, at a Super Bowl news conference, he said he didn't know about this surcharge caper that was going to be used in Charlotte and added, "I think this is an appropriate time to end the press conference."
The reason we particularly remember the situation is that this reporter was the one who asked the question because Charlotte was using the ploy against Baltimore to help pay for its new stadium when it didn't have adequate funding. This is all a part of the record. Tagliabue, if he has forgotten, can look it up. It'll be in the transcript.
Art Modell, who has owned the Browns for 35 years, is coming to Baltimore for a deal that brings him a rent-free $200 million stadium and all money accrued from parking and concessions. Isn't that enough?
The fans of Baltimore, thirsting for the return of the NFL, might have reason to believe that a $200 million place to play, plus Modell not having to pay rent, along with gaining parking and concession revenues, would be more than sufficient. But, no, Modell is getting PSL fees, reportedly another $74 million, on top of all that.
He's saying it will be used for moving expenses and also, ostensibly, to pay an expected $30 million charge the NFL assesses for transferring the Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore. This is hush money that goes to all the other owners if and when they approve the move.
Baltimore has reason to be particularly infuriated over the PSL ticket trickery because thousands of fans paid for seats during ,, the expansion effort and left the orders and their checks on file. Now they are looking at the possibility of having to fork over the additional license fee.
Yes, Santa Claus is coming to town, bringing his Browns' bag with him, disguised as Art Modell. No other business on the face of the earth could get away with such an offending gesture to a customer. Would a radio station or a newspaper ask for a premium payment before allowing the sale of an advertisement? That's the same thing, but it doesn't happen.
And would a doctor, lawyer, furniture store, hairstylist, meat-cutter, auto dealer, insurance company, landscaper or a candlestick maker insist on a special advance payment before they would sell their wares or the right to a service? Then comes the actual bill.
Gov. Parris Glendening allowed the Maryland Stadium Authority to give away the store -- actually the state -- in its quest for a team. Little did they realize the reaction would be something less than totally positive. One business leader, a tower of integrity and endowed with a high degree of refinement in the Baltimore community, was asked last week to head the ticket-selling effort for the Browns and quickly declined. So the hunt continues to find an individual who will agree to lend his name and reputation to the cause of selling PSLs and tickets for the Browns.
Dr. Robert Baade, a professor of economics at Lake Forest (Ill.) College, who is an expert on sports financing, says the PSL game is another example of "how a trust is betrayed, and my belief is the public is soon going to become far less tolerant of how a few owners can work for their own benefit against so many loyal and responsible customers.
"I believe the NFL is wary about increasing the PSLs," he added. "Some team owners are whispering concern that they can't carry this too far, to a point where the people might resist. I also feel the league is courting disaster. The PSLs and the relocation fees are too good for the NFL to pass up and, don't forget, the other owners get a piece of the action."