Voters may shape league's stadium future


March 03, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

If Maryland voters were asked on this week's primary ballot to vote on the state's two proposed football stadiums, would they approve them?

Nobody knows, because they're not on the ballot.

The state Court of Appeals ruled several years ago when the original Camden Yards project was passed in 1987 that it couldn't be taken to referendum.

But the fact that the two stadiums have become such a controversial issue in the Maryland legislature this term shows that it could be a tough sell to persuade voters to support them.

That's why NFL executives will be watching closely this spring when the voters in one -- and possibly two -- cities will be asked to vote to approve the spending of public money on new stadiums.

Cincinnati voters are scheduled to vote March 19 on a half-cent tax increase to fund stadiums for the Reds and Bengals.

Nashville, Tenn., voters may be asked to vote to approve the city's $149 million contribution to a $292 million deal designed to attract the Oilers from Houston.

The Nashville deal got final approval last week from state and city legislatures, but opponents turned in 43,640 signatures on petitions to put the matter on the ballot about May 1. If 28,085 of those signatures are validated, the issue will go on the ballot.

The voters in those two cities will go a long way toward shaping the future of the NFL. If one or both fail, the NFL's stadium problem will become more acute.

About half the teams in the league are looking for new or renovated stadiums, and it's becoming tougher to persuade taxpayers to pay for them.

Assuming the stadiums for Baltimore and the Washington Redskins are approved by the legislature, that will leave Cleveland as the only other city in America with funding in place for a stadium.

Not that the Cleveland City Council is eager to pass the deal that Mayor Michael White negotiated with the NFL. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is coming to Cleveland tomorrow to lobby for approval of the project before the owners' annual meeting next week.

If the Cincinnati vote fails, Bengals owner Mike Brown has time to look at options -- including Cleveland. He hasn't burned his bridges in Cincinnati yet.

But if the Nashville vote fails, the Oilers would become an unpopular lame duck in Houston.

Houston isn't eager to invite them back. Houston Mayor Bob Lanier met with Tagliabue on Friday, lobbying for a deal like the one Cleveland got. For letting the Oilers out of the final two years of their lease, he wants the guarantee of a new team and a $48 million loan from the Bank of Tagliabue.

Ticket prices

With all the focus on permanent seat licenses, it's being somewhat overlooked that the price of regular tickets for the Baltimore team are likely to be expensive by the time the new stadium is ready.

Ticket prices keep going up around the league. The San Francisco 49ers and Redskins each raised prices $5 last week to an average of $44.75 and $40.69. That gave them third- and fifth-highest prices in the league, respectively. Jacksonville and Oakland were 1-2 at $60.50 and $51.08 last year, and Carolina was third at $41.21.

In Cleveland, the Browns raised prices last year to an average of $32.78 when they jumped from 24th to 14th in the league. The majority of the tickets were priced at $31 and $35.

This means if a fan buys two PSLs, at the average price of $1,500 each, and buys two tickets apiece for 10 games (two exhibition and eight regular season) at $35 each or $70 for two, that would mean $3,700 next year for two tickets.

The club hasn't set the exact prices yet and will have financing plans, but it'll still be a hefty price for the average fan to pay. Not all the seats, though, will have PSLs attached to them.

Taking the money

Terry Bradshaw, who won four Super Bowls for the Pittsburgh Steelers, says Neil O'Donnell may have made a mistake by leaving the Steelers for the New York Jets, probably ending his shot at another Super Bowl.

"When he gets to be my age, he will look back on his career, and you never say, 'Gee, I made $5 million that year.' You want to look back and say that you won it all," Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw, who predicted on Fox TV that O'Donnell would sign with the Jets if he lost the Super Bowl, would not even concede O'Donnell is an upgrade over Boomer Esiason for the Jets.

"I'm not remotely convinced that he's going to make a difference. He's not a tier-one quarterback," Bradshaw said.

Moving up?

Gary Kubiak, the longtime backup for John Elway in Denver, has been an NFL assistant coach for only two years, but he's being touted as a future head coach.

Kubiak's reputation is growing so fast as the Broncos' offensive coordinator that he said Baltimore coach Ted Marchibroda offered him a similar job with that team in a phone call even though they'd never met.

"I thanked him for the opportunity and told him I was flattered. I made my decision based on my family. Denver is where they're happy and Denver is where I'm happy," he said.

Six and counting

Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis filed his second lawsuit against the NFL last week, leaving the league facing six major lawsuits. The others are by former New England owners Billy Sullivan and Victor Kiam, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the city of St. Louis.

Davis' suits are over the sharing of permanent seat license money and his charge that the league "pushed him out of Los Angeles."

In the second suit, Davis complains that 49ers president Carmen Policy was quoted as saying that if Davis' skin were turned inside out, "you would see scales."

Not a bad line. Maybe Davis doesn't have a sense of humor.

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