Political realities force Redskins to vote yes on Browns' relocation Local complex to be finest in America, Angelos says

The Nfl Returns To Baltimore

February 10, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

It must be noted amid the local euphoria over the impending arrival of an NFL team in Baltimore that long-vilified Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke played an important role in the final decision by football owners to approve the franchise shift.

Earlier this week, Cooke publicly renounced any opposition to the deal that would put the erstwhile Cleveland Browns within 30 miles of his proposed stadium complex in Prince George's County. The NFL approved the move -- and an out-of-court settlement with the city of Cleveland -- by a 25-2 vote (with three abstentions) yesterday, and the Redskins voted along with the majority.

"They can't have it both ways," said lobbyist Gerard E. Evans, who has been representing the Redskins in stadium negotiations with the state legislature and Prince George's County. "They can't blame him for nine years for not getting a team and now diminish his role. Obviously, he has great influence with the NFL. I'm not saying he did that for nine years, but people accused him of that, so you can't have it both ways."

Cooke was considered -- at least by frustrated Baltimore football fans -- to be one of the major obstacles to the city's unsuccessful expansion bid in 1993. His opposition was thought to be tied to the belief that approval of a downtown stadium project would complicate his own efforts to build a stadium between Baltimore and Washington.

Redskins vice president John Kent Cooke, who cast the yes vote yesterday after a short speech to owners opposing the move, argued that the team didn't vote against Baltimore on expansion. He said he simply voted for the committee recommendation when Carolina and Jacksonville got teams in 1993.

On the Browns issue, the Redskins had pledged to Maryland legislators that they would vote in favor of Baltimore because they are getting $73 million in infrastructure improvements from Maryland for their proposed Prince George's County stadium.

"I think it shows progress," said Evans. "Everybody has a different idea, but everybody has a shoulder to the wheel trying to make it happen. We're very encouraged. We're getting it done."

The presence of another NFL team within a half-hour's driving distance would figure to be very revenue-unfriendly to the Redskins, but Evans insists a franchise in Baltimore will not have a significant financial impact on ticket and luxury box sales at the proposed stadium near Landover.

"The Redskins are sold out and there is a waiting list," Evans said. "The new stadium is going to be sold out. There is nothing inconsistent [about the Redskins' affirmative vote yesterday]. We draw from completely different markets, both for season-ticket sales and corporate box sales."

That may be true, but the Redskins' organization obviously had some reservations about the NFL's return to Baltimore until it became apparent that opposition might make it difficult to persuade legislators to approve $73 million for infrastructure around Cooke's privately financed stadium.

Evans said that the Baltimore and Washington sports markets are separated by more than mere geographical distance, and that there would be little competition for fans.

"Baltimore fans wouldn't go to a Redskins game if you sent a limo for them," he said. "I can remember when that was one of the great rivalries in football. I haven't thought that far ahead, but I would like to be at the first game between Baltimore and the Redskins. What a great game that is going to be."

Perhaps the team that will feel the most impact will be the Orioles, depending on the outcome of negotiations with the Maryland Stadium Authority over a parity clause in the club's Camden Yards lease.

The Orioles hope to realize millions of dollars in concessions from the state to achieve parity with the stadium deal profferred to Art Modell, but it remains to be seen whether they gain enough to offset the potential revenue loss caused by the entry of a new major professional team in their market.

Owner Peter Angelos doesn't seem worried. He has been a major supporter of the city's NFL effort, and in 1994 was instrumental in persuading the legislature to extend the funding deadline for a Camden Yards football stadium. He also made his own attempt to bring an NFL team to the area, bidding unsuccessfully for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"My support for a football team in Baltimore and the completion of the Camden Yards sports complex already is on record," Angelos said. "It will be the foremost sports complex in America when it's completed."

tTC Orioles officials speculate that the economic impact would not be significant, but the sale of more than 100 high-priced corporate boxes at the new football stadium is likely to have some effect on future luxury box rentals and renewals at Oriole Park. And the high-priced permanent seat licenses that will help finance Modell's move also could affect the Orioles' share of a finite local entertainment market.

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