Answer to million-dollar question due today NFL to announce expansion price


ATLANTA -- The long wait for a price tag should end today.

NFL owners holding their spring meetings here were scheduled to set the fee they will charge the owners of the league's next two expansion franchises.

Baltimore is competing with St. Louis, Charlotte, N.C., Jacksonville, Fla., and Memphis, Tenn., for the two teams the league plans to add this fall for play in 1995. League officials yesterday set a tentative date for the decision: at the fall meetings scheduled for Oct. 26-28 in Chicago.

The league is considering charging the winning franchises fees that range from $125 million to $175 million, but most of the speculation suggests figures on the high end.

Roger Goodell, vice president of operations for the league, said the staff has prepared a recommendation for the expansion committee to consider this morning. The committee's recommendation will be taken to a meeting of all 28 team owners later in the day.

Goodell declined to specify the figure the staff would recommend, but did say it calls for a payment this year by the winning groups, and no split of the league-wide television revenue for the new teams until 1995, and even then a partial cut.

He also planned to update the expansion committee this morning on the changes last week among Baltimore's NFL investment groups. One prospective ownership group, led by businessman James Robinson and novelist Tom Clancy, dropped out. Members of another, led by clothing retailer Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass,joined an effort to buy the Orioles, with the understanding that they would sell their baseball stake if they won a football team.

One expansion committee member, Atlanta Falcons owner Rankin Smith, said he is not concerned about the changes.

"Certainly Baltimore has shown enough interest that the remaining groups will be able to do it," he said.

He said Weinglass' interest in baseball would not hurt his chances, as long as he agreed to divest from baseball to comply with the NFL's cross-ownership rules.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue agreed, saying, "It certainly doesn't bother me as long as he stays interested in football."

As for the loss of the Clancy group, he said, "You still have two very strong groups there."

The second group is headed by Florida corporate investor Malcolm Glazer.

He is in town to lobby on Baltimore's behalf and said he is anxiously awaiting news of the franchise fee.

"It's important because the number has to make sense," he said.

Meanwhile, questions were raised here about the lawsuit filed in connection with an incident where several black Secret Service agents alleged they were unfairly denied service at a Denny's restaurant in Annapolis.

The national restaurant chain is owned by a company run by Jerry Richardson, the lead investor in Charlotte's bid and has been accused by the Justice Department of discriminating against black patrons.

Tagliabue declined to comment on the suit, saying, "It is allegation and litigation, which we have not had an opportunity to review."

Smith said he doubted the matter would affect the awarding of a franchise. "If something unforeseen happens, if they sent Mr. Richardson to jail, I guess we'd have to think about it," he said.

Richardson has not been threatened with jail, but his company has agreed to a series of steps growing out of earlier complaints, centered on restaurants in California. Among them, the company agreed to stress non-discrimination in its promotions and operations.

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