From PSLs to political game, it's a high price to pay for NFL

February 04, 1996|By John Steadman

What's being imposed upon you, dear citizen of Maryland, is (( without precedent. A record high price is about to be extracted for watching a football game. In some instances, a spectator will be asked to pay for the same seat three times. That's never happened before -- anywhere on the face of the earth.

No. 1, you'll be paying for it via the lottery, which amounts to money raised by public funding. No. 2, there'll be a surcharge, otherwise known as a permanent seat license or PSL (which could be interpreted to stand for permanent seat larceny), and No. 3, the price of the ticket.

It's understandable why the Cleveland Browns' move to Baltimore has been met with something less than euphoria. A survey commissioned by WMAR-TV and conducted by the Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research, Inc., showed 62 percent of the electorate voicing disapproval.

Since the Maryland Stadium Authority is imposing the permanent seat license to benefit Browns owner Art Modell, it means the Orioles could do the same. In quest of a new angle on the issue, the question was put to Peter Angelos, chairman of the board, who spent $173 million to buy the franchise. Would he attempt such a scam?

He answered with a resounding "no." "Absolutely not. Under no circumstances would I or the Orioles do anything of the sort. We are not in favor of PSLs. Lottery proceeds belong to the state. They are public funds; they built our ballpark."

Angelos said he would not ask that the public be assessed with PSLs, despite what the football club intends to do. Angelos, standing on the letter of his contract with the Maryland Stadium Authority, does want a different type of parity -- and he's entitled to it.

What the Browns get, the Orioles deserve. No question. Why did Angelos reaffirm the parity agreement and bring it into the open? "Because John Moag, head of the authority, testified before a congressional committee in Washington that the Browns' deal was the same as the Orioles', and that's wrong," Angelos said.

"Moag also said I was making a lot of money. That's wrong, too. In the over two years I've owned the Orioles, not a penny has been taken from the team by me or my partners. I don't want the public or the Congress of the United States to be deceived. Baseball people told me about the testimony. I felt absolutely compelled to correct the record."

In general terms, Modell has been promised a deal beyond compare. He gets a $200 million stadium, built to his specifications, for 30 years rent-free. He also gets all profits from parking and concessions, plus half the revenue accrued from other events that might be held there, such as rock concerts, soccer, tractor pulls, goat ropings, et cetera.

Reporter Jeff Schudel of the Willoughby (Ohio) News Herald asked Moag at the owners' meeting in Atlanta how he felt about stealing a team from Cleveland and said he got this answer: "I feel like s about it, of course."

As might be expected, the Maryland General Assembly is turning the Browns issue into the proverbial political football. This time it has something to kick around. Sen. Paul Pinsky is quoted as saying: "It's cannibalism in its present form. If the Browns were moving without abandoning Cleveland, I think the people of Maryland would welcome them with open arms, but not open checkbooks."

Pinsky is on the money, since Maryland doesn't have an excess to spend on anything, much less a sport that has little economic impact on a city -- considering only 10 games a season (including preseason) will be played at home, as opposed to the Orioles' 81 dates.

Meanwhile, some state officials have been given an advisory, presumably circulated by the governor's office, that programs them with answers to any questions regarding the stadium proposal.

If they get inquiries, they only need read the stock answers that have been provided. The Maryland Stadium Authority and Moag need approval for what they have promised Modell, even if speaker of the House of Delegates Casper Taylor and Senate president Thomas V. "Mike" Miller are putting up a bold front and, in a way, lobbying their membership.

Nationwide reaction created the most vicious furor in the history of the NFL. Gov. Parris N. Glendening was hoping the Browns deal would translate into re-election in 1998, but the backlash of criticism has been momentous. A highly respected economist, Dr. Robert Baade at Lake Forest (Ill.) College, predicts the return on the state's investment will be "less than 1 percent of the equity, or even closer to zero."

How much funnels down to Baltimore and Maryland businesses will be, overall, quite modest. This is not a belated discovery. Pro football games, unless it's the Super Bowl, draw only a handful of guests that stay overnight in hotels or spend heavily at restaurants.

This is not to be confused with a college game, such as when Clemson, Penn State and Miami have played Maryland at Memorial Stadium. In the NFL, planeloads of fans don't travel to other cities to watch their team. They stay home to watch on TV. If the Denver Broncos or another rival visits Baltimore, a constituency doesn't follow. The team checks in Saturday afternoon, is sequestered at its hotel and leaves the city two hours after the game.

What a team means to a city doesn't make it any better, but merely allows it to feel good, a psychological uplifting, so to speak. Is the quality of life in Baltimore, realistically, any better or worse since the Colts bolted for Indianapolis? The answer is an emphatic no.

Baltimore doesn't like being perceived as robbing another city. If Modell sold the Browns to Cleveland interests and got an expansion team for Baltimore, he'd be a hero, to some degree, in two cities. The perfect fit.

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