City must ride local to reach NFL JTC


Baltimore, gold mine or fool's gold?

First off, let's get one thing straight: Cities, not individuals or groups, are awarded expansion franchises in the National Football League. That's what the boys from Madison Avenue say anyway.

So any claims that so-and-so and his consortium have the votes (backing of NFL team owners) to gain Baltimore a team are woefully premature as well as just plain false.

Simultaneous with a city being accepted into the lodge, falling heir to the twin privileges of spending untold millions and losing many games, a just and proper ownership has been scouted and is knighted.

"Just and proper" in this case, if at all possible, means local. Here's why.

In case you hadn't noticed, the very image-conscious NFL has been getting pilloried consistently because of its inability to keep the membership pulling in the same direction. Owners have been dragging their teams to all points of the compass for about a decade, which doesn't look too good when you're selling loyalty and stability to fans.

When time came to anoint a new commissioner, it took the league about a year. Can't these guys agree on anything? Then, there's the $25 million it owes the players for illegal actions during the 1987 strike, the 1993 Super Bowl fiasco and the inevitability of more and more games ending up on pay-per-view TV.

Now, comes the problem of adding two teams to the mix in time for the '93 season so several excessively mortgaged franchises can lay their hands on the initiation money to help pay their financial obligations.

A couple of years ago, the Cardinals left St. Louis for the promised land Valley of the Sun and already they're on public assistance. Meanwhile, Victor Kiam is shopping his Patriots around while dunning Massachusetts for a new playpen. At this time, that's just about all the Bay State can afford, a portable enclosure for an infant.

Repeating, the NFL often gives the appearance of being a collection of loose cannons instead of the rock-solid, barely regulated, silky-smooth monopoly we all know it to be.

Consequently, it's important that the league make no mistakes and that the two new members be pillars of the community it can be proud of. Yes, Baltimore has a proud pro football tradition, but that came back in the days when things could be done on the cheap.

Nowadays, and taking into consideration the myriad changes that have hit the business, the city would probably be classified as borderline in its ability to support a franchise in the manner in which NFL franchises have become accustomed.

Just filling a stadium for 10 games a year doesn't come close to making it anymore. To satisfy the usually insatiable owner and to help out paying off a new stadium, a hundred or so luxury boxes would have to be scooped up. Radio rights would have to bring in $1.5 million. A local TV station would have to be willing to part with about $750,000 for the rights to four exhibition games. Magnificent parking and concession deals plus a thousand and one sponsorship tie-ins would have to be tended to the owner so that the team could "remain competitive."

All this would have to come true just to make the owner happy. What of the fans, the city, the state and the others picking up the tab?

This becomes important not only to us but to the NFL, which doesn't want to come in here and be embarrassed by failure.

For argument's sake, say out-of-the-market money comes in here and things don't break just right. Besides a losing team, a surety at the start, say tough times visit the profit and loss statement of the team. Fans, sportswriters and talk show hosts scream. How long will it take for a guy from Skokie, Ill., for instance, to abdicate?

And how quickly will cities in the Sun Belt and elsewhere, bypassed this time, offer aid and comfort to the beleaguered? The operative answer here is instantaneous.

Understand now why when at all possible it's always preferable to have local ownership, someone who's going to hang tough when the going gets tough, in other words, a guy who can't leave.

Back when the Colts left here -- 1984, wasn't it? -- the town was in the process of becoming a baseball-dominant town. But the helmetheads still laid claim to a hefty chunk of the market despite Bob the red-faced owner. Today, the Orioles wrench previously unthought of sums out of the local economy, and football would have a tough time horning in.

Already, the so-called Bart Starr Group has been elevated to the fore among those interested in being the franchise steward here. This is hard to understand and probably flawed considering Starr seems to fit the description of carpetbagger; he showed little ability in running a show when the head man in Green Bay and he previously romanced the city of Phoenix and ended up suing the NFL in that caper.

One's credibility is stretched slightly believing he would be welcomed with open arms on our behalf, particularly if one reasons that the last thing the owners want among them is a former player.

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