Glendening, Schaefer oppose Yards change

Oriole Park name `homey, down to earth'


July 19, 2000|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Two top state officials expressed reservations yesterday about allowing the Orioles to sell the name of Oriole Park at Camden Yards to a corporate sponsor.

Both Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer said the name of Baltimore's treasured ball yard is an important state asset.

Schaefer, who sits with Glendening on the three-member state board that would have to approve selling the stadium name, said he would vote against any such proposal.

"The name seemed to be acceptable to everyone," said Schaefer, who helped name the stadium in 1992, along with then-Orioles owner Eli Jacobs. "People call it Camden Yards, they call it Oriole Park, they call it O's Park. It made it homey and down to earth."

A spokesman for Glendening said he believes the stadium name is a well-known one that brings attention to Baltimore. But spokeswoman Michelle Byrnie said the governor has not studied the legal issues involved in the Orioles' possibly selling the name to a corporation.

"He believes that the name Camden Yards intrinsically has value in and of itself, but he has not talked to or heard from either of the sides on this issue at this point," Byrnie said.

The issue of the park's name surfaced yesterday in an article in The Sun detailing the team's ongoing legal battle with the Maryland Stadium Authority, which owns both Oriole Park and PSINet Stadium. The Orioles are seeking to rewrite the team's lease with the authority to match the terms under which the Ravens use PSINet Stadium.

The state in 1997 sold the right to rename the stadium to the Ravens for $10 million. Lawyers for the Orioles insist that a clause in the team's lease requires the state to grant the Orioles any rights given to the football team.

"We're seeking an equal lease term," said Alan M. Rifkin, a lawyer for the team.

Orioles vice chairman Joe Foss said the team is not pursuing the sale of naming rights.

"We're not entitled to do that under the current provision of the lease," Foss said. "To say we are out selling naming rights is completely false. We are not. We have not hired anybody. We have not talked to anybody to sell those naming rights. We are not planning to do it if we get those naming rights."

Foss said it was "understandable" there might be a negative reaction to the idea of putting a company's name on the stadium.

"There are a lot of people in this country who don't like commercialization of sports buildings, but it's part of the reality to how a number of teams are financed," Foss said. "And it's become a fairly acceptable practice in professional sports today, even in amateur sports," he added, citing Comcast's deal with the University of Maryland's planned basketball arena.

Securing the right to name the stadium would give the Orioles a huge asset. The Ravens sold the name of their stadium for $105.5 million over 20 years, and specialists in the field said Oriole Park could bring in at least as much.

The Orioles are preparing to take their case against the Stadium Authority to an arbitrator. The case is months from being heard and could take as much as a year to be resolved.

Should the Orioles win the right in the team's lease to rename the stadium, it's unclear whether the Maryland Board of Public Works would have the legal authority to block such a transaction.

State Treasurer Richard N. Dixon is the third member of the board, along with Glendening and Schaefer.

Dixon was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Sun staff writer Joe Strauss contributed to this article.

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