Modell fumbles in comments about city-Ravens dispute

February 26, 2002|By Michael Olesker

IN A $200,000 grudge between corporate bedmates, trouble surfaced last week when City Comptroller Joan Pratt called the Baltimore Ravens a bunch of liars. Now Ravens President David Modell, previously unavailable for comment, attempts to set the record straight. He should have kept himself unavailable.

In an interview the other day, Modell tried to defend his ball club, repeatedly stating a desire to be "good corporate citizens" - but inadvertently made them look small and cheap.

As everybody knows, the Ravens are minting money by the millions. They play in a ballpark that cost $229 million to build. Maryland citizens paid for the first $200 million, and the Ravens contributed only toward the $29 million in cost over-runs. They've taken in millions more on their contemptible personal seat licenses, and millions more from the corporate chump PSINet, to be followed by some other corporate stadium-naming chump. The city gets nothing from this.

And they were given a practice facility in Owings Mills, owned by the city, for $1 a year for five years - and, since the five years ran out, they've stalled and argued and made themselves look chintzy over $200,000.

Or maybe it's just $75,000.

Pratt said last week that $200,000 is fair-market value for a year's rental of the Owings Mills facility. She said the Ravens keep dodging her. The Ravens' attorney, Michael Colglazier, sent Pratt a letter two weeks ago claiming he hadn't heard from her in six months. Pratt referred to this as "a lie ... absolutely a lie."

And she wants to know why the Ravens should be allowed to continue dodging fair payment.

"That's not our desire," David Modell said a few days after Pratt aired her frustrations in public. "I had one conversation with [Pratt], and I told her I was hoping we could [continue] the $1 a year deal."

As who wouldn't?

Pratt's contention is that the wealthy Ravens have received enormous gifts from the financially strapped city, and to ask for more is unfair and unseemly.

Yet here was Modell, responding to her.

"I told her it wasn't fair to ask us to pay," he said. "She said, `You all don't want to be good corporate citizens, and help your city, which is cash-starved.' I said, `You're going to go public with that?' I mean, I saw she's wasn't going to be reasonable, she was going to try to score political points.

"There was a deal - $1 a year - and we wanted to hold to that. We have a history of trying to be reasonable. We love our community and don't want to be perceived as bad guys."

But the Ravens leave little choice with this kind of tactic combining the financial stall with the corporate double-speak.

The club wants to build a new training facility. The Owings Mills camp, built for the Baltimore Colts, is considered out of date. Modell said the deal that was struck called for the Ravens to spend $1 a year - even on a new practice facility - "if the cost of the stadium came in under $200 million."

Clearly, though, it did not. The stadium cost $229 million. So, where's Modell's argument?

"Technically," he said, "we went to the five-year deal [at $1 a year] because we felt we'd have a new facility built in those five years, and we could skedaddle out, and the story's over."

But they didn't, and so the story continues. It continues with the Ravens trying to dodge Pratt and appeal to the mayor's office for a bargain, and it continues with the Ravens suggesting they might pay $125,000 to a charity of their choice - rather than pay the city the $200,000 Pratt wants to collect.

And, as everybody knows, the difference between $200,000 and $125,000 is $75,000.

Making it more astonishing that, in today's sports atmosphere involving untold millions, the Ravens would try to dodge their financial obligations for what amounts to a $75,000 difference.

"Our feeling," Modell said, "is that all the players have changed since we first struck a deal with Baltimore." He means the political players. "So, instead of the $1 a year, the terms should change. We undertook a fairly sizable endeavor to move here, and everybody should live up to agreements."

Does everyone understand the structure of that sentence? Yes, the Ravens undertook a "sizable endeavor" to come here - mainly, the size was composed of the millions the club has pocketed, and thus moved the Modell family from financial straits to financial heaven.

Which was precisely Art Modell's entire argument to justify his move from Cleveland to Baltimore.

As for the second part of son David's statement - "Everybody should live up to agreements" - that's exactly the city's position: the Ravens had a sweetheart deal on the practice facility, but it ended. The new deal is simple: Pay fair-market value for the practice facility.

Or look like a corporate deadbeat if you don't.

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