Two cities may see lame-duck ball in '96

On the NFL

June 09, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Don't expect the NFL to use it as a marketing slogan, but this is going to be the league's year of the lame duck.

The Oilers will be playing as a lame duck in Houston after making a deal to move to Nashville, Tenn., and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are likely to move if voters reject a proposed tax increase on Sept. 3.

The Hillsborough County Commission voted 4-2 last week to put a 15-year, half-cent sales tax on the ballot for schools, public safety and the construction of a new stadium.

Tampa voters last year rejected a one-cent sales tax for schools and public safety. The commissioner is hoping the football fans who voted no last time will switch to get this measure over the top.

But one commissioner who opposed the measure, Ed Turanchik, predicted the idea of attaching the stadium to funding for schools and public safety won't work.

"I don't know how you sell this thing," he said. "It's so odd."

If the voters reject it, the county has agreed to let the Bucs move without a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, thanks to an NFL ploy that backfired, the Oilers won't have their new home in Nashville until 1999 instead of 1998. When the NFL approved the move, it attached a proviso that approval was contingent on killing a bill in Congress that would force the league to expand.

TC Because the bill won't die until the end of the session in December, Nashville can't begin construction of its stadium until then and won't be able to finish it until 1999.

That means the Oilers have to play three lame-duck seasons in Houston or play in Memphis once their Astrodome lease expires after the 1997 season.

The city of Houston will now join the hunt for a new team, and

since the league isn't planning to expand any time soon, it'll have to build a stadium and steal a team to get back into the league.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was coy on how Houston could get a team when he visited the city a week ago.

As Houston Chronicle columnist Ed Fowler put it, "Tagliabue has thus maintained deniability [that Houston has to steal a team], something more important to a man in his position than a briefcase. Knock over a liquor store, you go to jail. Run a scam like this, you get a raise."

Tagliabue is going to be about as popular in Houston as he is in Baltimore these days.

The Bucs' attendance could nose-dive if the referendum is defeated. Last year, Baltimore ad man Bob Leffler, who also does business with the Ravens, designed an "It's a new day in Tampa Bay" campaign that helped the team sell 32,000 season tickets and average about 60,000 a game in attendance.

Leffler, trying to put the best face on things, says he'll prepare two Tampa marketing campaigns this year -- one for the referendum passing and one for it failing. He says the Bucs will draw fans if they win, even if the referendum fails.

"My philosophy is a quote from Wordsworth: 'Prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.' You have to deal with the situation that exists. You can't be a doomsayer," Leffler said.

Still, selling tickets for a lame-duck team won't be easy.

The selling game

Baltimore stores are alive these days with the sound of cash registers ringing up sales of Ravens merchandise.

But don't think the Ravens are making a killing on these sales, even though they have value as a promotional tool.

Would you believe the Ravens make three cents on a $20 T-shirt?

The way it works is that the NFL gets 9 percent of the wholesale price, which is half the retail price. That's 90 cents on a $20 T-shirt, and 30 teams split it evenly.

All those three-cent contributions add up to about $3 million a team, which is about half the signing bonus that Jonathan Ogden is likely to get from the Ravens this year.

The big money for NFL teams is in ticket sales and television.

That's why Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys' owner, is still cramming luxury boxes into Texas Stadium despite all his marketing deals.

Jones added 21 more boxes this year, increasing the total to 373, more than in any other stadium in any other sport.

Jones, according to Financial World magazine, grossed $111.2 million last year, almost $30 million more than the second-place Miami Dolphins. The Ravens were listed at 11th last year in Cleveland at $71.4 million, right behind the New York Giants at $71.5 million.

Those numbers may be conservative. The magazine estimated Green Bay's revenue at $65.8 million, and the Packers, the only team to issue a public financial statement, actually grossed $70.2 million last year.

With 21 more boxes to sell this year, Jones should continue to be in first place in the league's financial standings.

Jimmy's world

Jimmy Johnson is back, and he's as intimidating as ever.

The new Miami Dolphins coach gambled on defensive lineman Tony Brackens, an underachiever in college, as his first-round pick. Johnson made sure he wasn't hindered by a holdout.

When Brackens was in for minicamp, Johnson made it clear he would be unhappy if Brackens didn't sign immediately and get into his program.

Brackens got the message and signed a five-year deal averaging $1.07 million, becoming the first player drafted on the first round this year to sign.

Last year's 20th pick, defensive lineman Luther Ellis of the Detroit Lions, signed a four-year deal averaging $1.05 million. Although Brackens got more up-front money for signing for an extra year -- a $1.8 million signing bonus to $1 million for Ellis -- he won't be eligible for free agency until after his fifth year instead of his fourth year.

If Brackens makes it big, that extra year will cost him money.

But Johnson got his way. He usually does.

Vinson update

Towson State's Tony Vinson, who had been the World League offensive player of the week for two straight weeks, ran into a rainstorm last Sunday against Barcelona.

He was held to 13 yards on 13 carries in a 7-6 loss that dropped his London team to a 3-5 mark and probably knocked it out of a shot at the World Bowl.

Pub Date: 6/09/96

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