Pay $105 million to the order of `Bank of Modell'

February 07, 1999|By JOHN STEADMAN

What's needed to adequately identify the new football stadium at Camden Yards, instead of a convoluted corporate abbreviation, is a gigantic multicolored dollar sign ($) mounted on the front of the building.

More appropriately, it should be called "The Bank of Modell."

The facility that you built with your money, now to be known as PSINet Stadium, has increased income faster for the Ravens in its first year than accountants can tabulate. Soon, "The Bank of Modell," touched with civic spirit, may be in position to share the wealth by offering no-interest loans to red-ink businesses and private individuals needing assistance throughout the state.

Now that Modell has been enriched appreciably by the state of Maryland, allowing for the most enormous profit-making, blockbuster deal in the history of American sports, a notable precedent also has been established. The question before the house: Will the state of Maryland continue to do for others what it contributed to a professional (money-making) football team that plays a mere 10 home games a year?

What about rescuing other troubled endeavors in our midst, speaking hypothetically of, say, an automobile agency, a restaurant, a glass factory or a plumbing supply house? Shouldn't they, by way of the policy established with the Ravens, be entitled to the same fiscal consideration?

During his 35-year residency in Cleveland, Arthur Modell, according to his close newspaper confidant, Hal Lebowitz, "lived off borrowed money." Now Modell is in a position to enjoy the security of solvency as never before, which makes all of us happy. Baltimore and Maryland have made him a rich man -- more specifically the Maryland Stadium Authority, which extended the offer that brought him to Baltimore while he gave up on his once-beloved Cleveland.

The stadium authority, with the compliance of the governor, forgot whom it is representing. Certainly not the public. A full investigation seems in order to clarify the entire issue. Not that any indictments will be brought, but a full accounting should be given to the entire state of how a publicly funded stadium, paid for with your money, can be such an exclusive cash cow for a football team.

You, the public, have been abused as never before. You may not want to admit it or even care about what happened, but in all the history of professional sports, in Baltimore or elsewhere, there has never been anything comparable to such a momentous giveaway to a club owner. It's also safe to say there will not be a taxpayers rebellion. That won't happen because the football public obviously is delighted to keep Modell contented, whatever the price.

The citizens, for some perverse, inexplicable reason, stand around expecting to be violated and take a financial hit. The Ravens placate such desires. The team sold the prerogative to name the stadium to a commercial entity, pocketing $105 million after the Ravens paid $10 million to the stadium authority for the right to broker the deal. Turning a $10 million purchase into one worth 10 times as much comes under the heading of smart business for the Ravens but a horrendous deal for the taxpayers.

The grandest of sweetheart arrangements with the stadium authority continues to test the powers of imagination, especially letting the Ravens buy in for $10 million and walk away with $105 million. WBAL radio talk-show host Allan Prell, livid over what happened in the sale of the name, said Baltimore played the role "of a $2 street prostitute only the prostitute didn't get the money." Instead of pride, there's embarrassment over what happened.

Before the stadium was named, the Ravens informed their club seat clients that prices will increase by as much as 50 percent in the next four years and also asked for lease extensions. If this isn't a world record for gall, then what is?

Has it occurred to the season-ticket holders that they have been taken on a ride, treated as if they are a collection of rubes with hayseed in their hair, or are they simply enjoying the ravages inflicted upon them, Ravens style?

If some members of the media want to roll over for the Ravens and not express concern for a public they are supposed to protect, then it's a reflection on their lack of ethics, character and integrity. They simply ought to go work for the Ravens to make it official.

In case you forgot, the Ravens are cashing in on a sweetheart deal for 30 years of use of the $223 million stadium that you paid to build. All concessions and parking fees go to them, and half the profit of any other events staged there are turned over to team Modell. The agreement the stadium authority made with Modell wasn't worth the football team he brought with him.

We truly expected, with so much heat accompanying the sale of the stadium name, that some cutie-pie public relations ploy would be attempted to defuse the controversy. That still might happen. Be on the alert.

Furthermore, an unconfirmed report is circulating that a surcharge may be assessed each fan for the air he or she breathes while attending games. Merely write another check to "The Bank of Modell."

Pub Date: 2/07/99

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