Ravens Stadium loses the signs of ill times in telecom industry

Letters of failed PSINet come down one by one

April 10, 2002|By Andrew Ratner | Andrew Ratner,SUN STAFF


Dave Henshaw might have spelled that in purple neon if his job yesterday was to put letters up.

But it was to take them down - specifically to remove the name of the bankrupt Internet company PSINet Inc. from the Baltimore Ravens football stadium.

With a 40-ton crane and help from co-workers in a cherry picker 100 feet above him, Henshaw reeled in 7-foot letters from the east face of the stadium like a surfcaster on a gusty day down the ocean.

"This is a piece of Baltimore history we're doing," co-worker Rob Holmes shouted above the wind.

Short-lived history, anyway.

The Ravens paid PSINet $5.9 million last month to sever the 20-year stadium sponsorship pact that both parties signed in 1999. Just 16 months ago, it looked a deal made in football heaven. The Ravens were making a successful run for the silver Super Bowl trophy and PSINet's share price was still in double-digits.

But the Ashburn, Va.-based company, which linked corporations to the Internet, quickly collapsed under huge debt - the fourth-largest telecommunications bankruptcy ever. And the Ravens eventually paid to keep the naming rights from getting tangled in creditor lawsuits. The terminated sponsorship and suite agreements were worth $76.3 million.

"We valued our relationship with the Baltimore Ravens and wish them all of the luck and many more Super Bowl rings in the future," said Lawrence E. Hyatt, chief restructuring officer of PSINet, which has sold most of its assets in Chapter 11.

Ravens management has discussed auctioning off the letters on the team's Web site - once run by PSINet. Proceeds would go to the Ravens Foundation for Families.

"Maybe we could buy some equipment for some city schools," said Kevin Byrne, Ravens' vice president for public relations.

No final decision on an auction has been made, he said.

Henshaw, whose family owns Arundel Signs Inc. in Annapolis, contemplated putting at least the PSINet moon logo above the pool cabana in his back yard.

277 volts needed

Chances are, however, no one has to worry about a neighbor buying the massive letters and getting by the homeowners' covenants to erect and light them up: They need power sources of at least 277 volts - most homes have 110.

With two-thirds of pro sports facilities in North America now named for corporate sponsors - the first was Rich Stadium, named for a food company in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1973 - stadium signage has become ample business for Henshaw and competitors.

His company put up signs for FedEx Field in Prince George's County, where the Washington Redskins play, and for Enron Field in Houston. Someone else took that one down last month after the Texas-sized meltdown of the energy trader.

Arundel Signs' most difficult job was putting up the signs at the Cleveland Browns' stadium, Henshaw recalled, because of bitter winds - and the fact that his crew forgot to remove Ravens decals from their hardhats. After some heckling, Browns' management met with Henshaw to suggest other hardhats, to be truly protective.

Several blocks south of the Ravens' field yesterday, Harry Connolly Jr. looked out the window of Bellsinger Sign Works Inc. toward the 69,000-seat stadium and lamented the removal of the letters his company fashioned.

Connolly had sold the PSINet signs for about $350,000.

Cheaper sign

His father, also a Bellsinger employee, had sold the revered stainless-steel sign for Memorial Stadium, former home of the former Baltimore Colts football team, for $35,000 two generations earlier.

"I was a child then when I watched them install the Memorial Stadium letters and as well as following through on the PSINet job," said Connolly, sales manager for Bellsinger, which began in Baltimore in 1919.

"The PSINet signs were one of the very largest signs in Baltimore, and you always hate to see something like that go," he said. "It's like losing one of your children."

The PSINet signs required the toil of Bellsinger metal fabricators, electricians and neon-benders, who rarely get to work in that much purple, Connolly said. The letters ranged from about 300 pounds, the ones removed yesterday, to 600 pounds, the largest letters on the stadium's south side.

26-foot-wide moon

Those are set to come down next week, and will require twice as many workers, Henshaw said. The half-moon crescent, from PSINet's corporate logo, is 26 feet wide all by itself.

Scattered on the ground around Henshaw yesterday were a giant "T" and an "S" and other letters, like Scrabble chips awaiting Goliath. For all the attention, and some anger, that surrounded the PSINet name, the scene around the red-brick stadium was nearly desolate.

Landlocked by empty parking lots and train tracks, the site wasn't too accessible to gawkers.

The whisper of a light-rail train cresting a rise over the Middle Branch of the Patapsco and the buzz of an emergency medical helicopter descending on the University of Maryland Medical Center, with Henshaw's crane, were the lone sounds from the grounds.

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