Modell's PR battle plans aside, real fight is for Baltimore's love

February 25, 1996|By John Steadman

Prepare for the most extensive and effusive media blitz in the history of Baltimore and Maryland sports. It'll be like nothing you've witnessed or heard about before. So far, Arthur Modell & Co. are pressing most of the right public relations buttons.

First, the homecoming of Ted Marchibroda as head coach. Applause. Next a donation of $24 million to help education by way of appeasing the Maryland legislature. More approval. Then, too, the effort to buy the Colts' name back from Indianapolis.

Of passing interest is Modell telling retired sportscaster Vince Bagli, over lunch, that he was ready to offer the Irsays $5 million for rights to the Colts name. This is typical of how Modell, always out front and aggressive, operated as the owner of his former Cleveland Browns franchise. After a three-month scrimmage that created prolonged agony, he left the team name behind but not the football, which most assuredly is going to be kicked off in Baltimore this season.

His donation of $24 million to a school fund is to be applauded. He didn't have to do it. The jolt came when he was informed that the overall stadium deal, earlier agreed upon by both parties in the negotiation, wasn't palatable to a considerable number of elected Maryland officials. At the urging of the governor and his representatives, he tried to create a more hospitable atmosphere within the General Assembly by agreeing to make the grant.

This is undoubtedly going to pave the way for legislative approval of the agreement. Politicians, hearing negative responses, first wanted Modell to give something to the stadium building fund before he made the charitable donation. Baltimore's arrangement, however, wasn't about to collapse, because Modell was committed; he had no other place to go.

It wasn't that he could reverse his field. Returning to Cleveland was out of the question. He also would be going back on his word to the Maryland governor and his emissary, John Moag, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Maryland, however, sacrificed some of its integrity by forcing Modell into doing something that wasn't in the text of the original agreement. The contract called for building a $200 million stadium that'll be his to occupy for 30 years rent-free. As for Modell's payment of $24 million, it's possible four or five schools, depending on costs, will be constructed from the money he'll be handing over.

Modell's name, by all means, should be placed on each building so proper credit is reflected. It's interesting that not any part of the donation will fund stadium costs.

What the same General Assembly would like to do is get Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Washington Redskins, to help finance his stadium, or even follow Modell's lead, in Prince George's County. However, there is one enormous difference in the two deals. Cooke is putting up $160 million of his money to build the facility, with no talk thus far of asking for permanent seat licenses, which Redskins fans wouldn't tolerate.

Cooke is asking for state and county governments to pay for infrastructure, which is put at $70 million, but a contractor told us it could conceivably run another $50 million. It's not popular in the NFL to pay for anything you can get someone else to finance, which is why Cooke is in Prince George's County and Modell in Baltimore.

Relying on memory, only two other NFL owners have helped pay for their own playpens, namely the late Joe Robbie of the Miami Dolphins in 1987, who was responsible for the total cost of $115 million to build the stadium that's named after him, and Lamar Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs, who put up $9.5 million in 1972 to help with the creation of Arrowhead Stadium.

It's interesting that in neither situation were PSLs used for the right to buy a ticket. There's reason to believe that a Baltimore bank, possibly First National Bank of Maryland, since it reportedly extended Modell a $50 million line of credit, will help fans finance the buying of PSLs and also season tickets. This has been done before in the NFL.

Where the Baltimore deal with Modell encountered trouble -- beyond any doubt -- is that Thomas V. Mike Miller, president of the Maryland Senate, and Casper Taylor, speaker of the House of Delegates, were not consulted until the arrangements were made. After all, the General Assembly is the funding agency for ** the state of Maryland (that's why they were elected), and under no circumstance should their importance to the taxpayers be ignored or circumvented.

Meanwhile, watch how the Modell machine, since he comes from an advertising background, swings into action. His son, David Modell; official spokesman David Hopcraft; Bob Leffler, of the marketing agency that carries his name; and Kevin Byrne, an all-pro public relations director, are at work projecting the team's image.

Don't be surprised if Modell tries to hire such former Colts as Tom Matte and John Unitas for positions in the organization so as to capitalize on their popularity. PR is the name of his game.

Maybe the Orioles and owner Peter Angelos aren't aware of it, but they can expect at least a subtle battle for the affections of the public. Something similar evolved at an earlier stage when Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom ingratiated himself with the press in a manner that paid off, while bitterly opposing Jerry Hoffberger, owner of the Orioles.

A massive promotional campaign on behalf of the Modell team will push pro football per se and, in a subtle way, play off whatever it is the established Orioles are doing. Don't doubt it for a second. There may not be open warfare, but a fight for the attention and affections of Baltimore, in more ways than even any of us can imagine, is inevitable.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.