Athletes give boost to suite success Ravens skybox rentals reflect huge raises in players' salaries

Stadium Watch

August 19, 1998|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Mike Preston and Jay Apperson contributed to this article.

In a sign of the good times for professional athletes in America, the skyboxes at Ravens stadium will be populated not just by corporate bigwigs and government VIPs but by friends and families of players like Eric Green, Cal Ripken and a handful of others looking for recreation or a haven.

Six Ravens players are considering or have leased suites at the stadium, either by themselves or in combination with others: Green, Ray Lewis, Rod Woodson, Tony Siragusa, Stevon Moore and Michael Jackson. The suites would be used by the players' families and friends during games.

"I just wanted to do it because I'm in the middle stages of my career and I wanted my friends and family to be able to enjoy these moments," said Green, a tight end with the Ravens since 1996. "I wanted my mother and grandmother to see me in grand style."

The new stadium has 108 suites. Of those, six are still available, four are being held out for day-by-day rental, and a few are reserved for the owner and visiting teams.

As at Oriole Park, three are reserved for the free use of the governor, mayor of Baltimore and the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Others are leased by the corporate heavyweights one would expect, such as Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust, Bell Atlantic, T. Rowe Price and MBNA.

It's a costly purchase. The suites range from $55,000 to $200,000 a year depending on size and location. Food and drink have to be purchased from the stadium concessionaire, at steep prices: crab cakes to serve 24 cost $150 and a six-pack of Budweiser is $17, not including tax or the 18 percent service charge.

The expense has prompted some, including players, to go in on a single box together.

"We're excited to have them up there," said David B. Cope, Ravens vice president for sales and marketing.

Cope, who has labored for the past two years to lease the suites, said he was surprised to find a ready market among the players. They already get a few complimentary tickets to home games for use by family and friends, but a suite offers comfort and security and can be used after the game or for business, he said.

"It's a natural progression with the salaries that they are getting," Cope said.

Baseball players average $1.1 million a year. Football players, who didn't achieve meaningful free agency until 1993, aren't far behind, at $767,000. Many individual athletes get much more. Ripken earns $6 million a year, Rod Woodson $3.5 million, and Green $1.2 million.

"I think more and more players will buy them. I think some of these good, young rich players should have it put in their contracts," Green said.

The teams resist the idea of giving boxes away. None of the players gets a discount, although the team is looking at ways to accommodate the possibility that a player will be traded. Suite leases require multi-year commitments.

"I think Cal wants to show support for the new football team," said Ira Rainess, an attorney who handles much of the Orioles player's commercial endorsements.

Rainess said he also will use the suite to attract business for Ripken. The third baseman leases a box at Oriole Park, too, for the use of his family and friends.

Orioles spokesman John Maroon said Ripken is the only player to have a box at Oriole Park, but Roberto Alomar has expressed interest if he signs a new Orioles contract.

Rainess said Ripken's lifelong base in the community, his long-term contract and plans to stay in Baltimore after retirement all played a role in his decision to get a suite. "We're in kind of a

unique situation," he said.

Retired Colt Stan White, a local attorney and broadcaster, has a Ravens suite in combination with associates. Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda shares a box with 29 other renters.

A spot check of various teams shows players growing as a market for suite-leasing. Cleveland's Jacobs Field has a box rented by Jim Thome. At the Ballpark in Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers, three of the 126 boxes are leased by current players: Will Clark, John Wetteland and Ivan Rodriguez.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman has a box there, too.

"It has been a good market for us. It's one of the aspects of the game we can offer to them for the use of their family and friends," said Melinda Bantz, Rangers coordinator of corporate hospitality.

Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne said quarterback Bernie Kosar used to rent a box at Cleveland Stadium when the franchise was based there. Other players from time to time also rented suites, he said.

Joe Geier, an Ellicott City-based financial adviser with the accounting firm of Geier, Mules & Associates, whose clients include a number of professional athletes, said he is seeing more of them expressing an interest in suites.

"I'm sure the trend will continue as more stadiums go up," Geier said. "You would never have seen it in the past. But with the salaries today, guys can afford it."

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