Seat license fees criticized in Browns stadium agreement

January 23, 1996|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Signaling unhappiness with the stadium deal between the state and Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, members of a key legislative committee yesterday took aim at the $80 million to be generated for Mr. Modell by the sale of "personal seat licenses."

Several members of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee took turns criticizing the seat license arrangement, saying either the fees should be made more affordable or that some proceeds should help pay for the stadium.

"I think the PSLs are an absolute rip-off," said Sen. John A. Cade, an Anne Arundel Republican and a stadium supporter.

Several legislators pointed out that the seat license fees are the one part of the deal with the Browns that does not conform to stadium legislation passed by the General Assembly in 1987. Using that legislation, the Glendening administration has agreed spend $200 million to build the team a stadium at Camden Yards.

Some lawmakers now say modifying the PSL arrangement could help secure the votes needed to pass the stadium plan through the legislature.

The lease between the Browns and the Maryland Stadium Authority calls for the team to sell enough seat fees to bring in $80 million. The one-time seat fee would guarantee a purchaser the right to that seat for 30 years, although the fan would also have to pay for tickets.

The lease calls for Mr. Modell to use $75 million of the proceeds to pay relocation costs, including any settlement of legal troubles in Cleveland or a relocation fee that might be assessed by the National Football League.

The team has not said how many licenses it would try to sell to the public, but stadium authority officials have estimated that as many as 80 percent of the stadium seats might be licensed.

If 80 percent of the 70,000-seat stadium were covered by license fees, the average cost would need to be more than $1,400 to bring in $80 million.

"The price has got to come down for the average Joe," said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat. "You just can't sell that to my people."

After several senators sounded off, Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and the committee chairwoman asked, "Do you get the message?"

"Loud and clear, senator," responded John A. Moag, the chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Mr. Moag said PSLs were the "most hotly negotiated" item during the bargaining between the state and the Browns. Originally, Mr. Modell wanted to raise $126 million through seat licenses.

"My job was to get their numbers down," Mr. Moag told the committee.

After yesterday's hearing, Ms. Hoffman said the panel is exploring ways to give the state more control over the PSL proceeds.

She said she favors devoting any of the leftover proceeds to stadium construction costs, lowering the state's share of the project.

Mr. Modell has said he has not ruled out modifications to his deal with the state, but said no one has brought him a specific proposal to consider.

Mr. Modell has said "not one nickel" of the seat license money will be used for the team or his profit. All the money will be used for moving-related expenses, including buying out leases on his training complex and stadium in Ohio.

Mr. Modell also anticipates the league will take slices of the money as a relocation fee and league share of revenues.

If less money is needed than the $80 million specified in his agreement, he has said he would reduce the price of the seat licenses.

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