On lease, O's deserve level playing field

July 23, 2000|By JOHN STEADMAN

IF THE ORIOLES, as a major-league and also a minor-league entity, have existed in Baltimore for well over a century, then it would seem in all basic fairness they enjoy the same equitable treatment from the Maryland Stadium Authority as a football team, the Ravens, which has been organized for only four seasons.

Baltimore, in a football sense, has been victimized by carpet-bagging tactics. The permanent seat license scheme and putting a corporate name on the stadium were regrettable actions. State officials allowed it to happen with hardly a handful of dissenters among elected officials.

Just because other team owners are getting away with similar chicanery doesn't make it right. The Ravens charted the waters and got what they wanted. Even some fans are apathetic toward what happened. It's as if they are saying, "Do it to me again; I like being violated; the mugging feels good."

If they enjoy being abused, then there's nothing that can be done to protect them from themselves. Maybe the next move by management will be to search them when they show up for games to see how much money they're carrying to see if they want to make a donation.

The stadium authority, intended or not, guilty or innocent, cannot offer preferential treatment to one tenant over another when the contract in plain language says there must always be parity. The Orioles delayed much too long in bringing about a legal protest - one that is now expected to go to arbitration within the year.

Selling the name of the ballpark to a commercial enterprise after public financing built both stadiums at Camden Yards falls under the category of a no-class move motivated entirely by greed. The football structure was paid for with your tax money, but the Ravens pocketed an estimated $100 million for giving a Virginia corporation the right to put its logo on the facility.

It doesn't have to be that way. Mike Brown, owner of the Cincinnati Bengals and far from affluent, will be opening a new stadium within the month and rebuffed all offers from business interests to pay for the sponsorship.

He's naming the venue after his father, the late Paul Brown, who brought pro football to Cincinnati in 1968. So if you search long enough there is a touch of dignity, although rare, to be found the among the mercenaries, otherwise known as club owners. Young Brown is a credit to his family, to his father's name and the rich contributions both have made to football.

The suggestion that the Orioles are out knocking on doors trying to find a corporate sponsor is denied by the team. Such a possibility evolved from the fact that there are seemingly numerous references in the contract where the Ravens have received advantages which the Orioles also regard as their entitlement.

Simply stated, according to the agreement between the teams and stadium authority, what the Ravens receive also becomes the same right of the Orioles. It's called, once again, parity and was insisted upon by the late Edward Bennett Williams when he owned the baseball club.

The Orioles don't exactly have the junior varsity working for them in pursuit of finally bringing the matter to the fore. A legal team comprising Alan Rivkin, Brendan Sullivan and David Kendall will state their case for the Orioles.

On at least four occasions, since Angelos bought the Orioles, we've heard him say as long as he was in command, there would never be a PSL assessed to the fans or a name placed on the ballpark. This would only cheapen the reputation of the facility.

Has there been a change in his attitude? No. But he realizes the Ravens received at the outset a sweetheart contract. He wants some of those same protective considerations Williams negotiated. Again, he's deserving of the identical deal ... to the letter.

This would include the right to sell the name if he wanted, but he has better judgment than to do anything so blatantly selfish and also foolish. Angelos says the parity issue represents an enormous list. The Ravens' state-of-the-art sound system, created by a son, John Modell, and updated concession equipment are only two expanded improvements among many the Orioles insist the stadium authority make for them.

So what's preferred by the Orioles is an update in their facility - what the Ravens have gotten gratis. Equal treatment, the same for one as the other. And it could be that the Orioles are going to be owed a huge sum of money because of the disparity between the franchises and what has evolved. The stadium authority, meanwhile, is caught in the middle.

From the outset, the authority has endeavored to claim because the Ravens pay for cleaning up the stadium and the Orioles don't - an expense covered by the authority - that this is an area where the ballclub has a huge financial advantage.

On many other contractual points, the Orioles are in a position to get what they are after. It goes back to what Williams wanted and which specified that if a football team came to Baltimore, the Orioles would be granted all the same concessions.

Now the Orioles want to see if such a contention is fulfilled. In some places, perturbed media members say they see no reason to capitulate to commercial interests on naming stadiums, regardless of how much a commercial organization paid, so they merely ignore any such reference in stories. It defeats the pretense of free advertising.

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