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Favorable expansion draft blows from Atlanta through Baltimore


Not only were Baltimore's chances for an expansion team enhanced by the high price set by the NFL in Atlanta last week, but the owners also gave the two new teams a big break on the field.

In addition to the three players from each team in the veteran allocation pool, the two expansion teams will get an extra pick in each round of the draft for up to three years -- although current plans are to award them for two years -- thanks to a deal owners struck with the NFL Players Association.

That means in the first two years, the teams would likely have 12 picks in the first three rounds. That gives each team a windfall of extra draft picks nearly the equivalent of the Herschel Walker deal, and you know what that did for the Dallas Cowboys. They went from 1-15 to the Super Bowl in four years.

"A team can become very competitive right away," said Joel Glazer, the son of investor Malcolm Glazer.

Now all Baltimore has to do is get one of the two franchises.

The key to Baltimore's bid will be the sky-box and club-seat ticket campaigns July 1 to Sept. 1.

The city sent its suggested ticket prices to the league last week. The cost of the 100 sky boxes will range from $105,000 for the boxes on the 50-yard line to $45,000 for the ones in the corner of the end zone. None will be in the back of the end zone.

The price for the 7,500 club seats will range from $1,700 for the seats on the 50 to $700 for the ones in the corner of the end zone.

Selling those seats would impress the owners. Each city will make a two-hour presentation on Sept. 21-22 and then a final 45-minute presentation Oct. 26-27 right before the vote.

"Everything we've done so far has been extremely positive," said Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Selling those seats is critical to making the city's financial package work. Since Baltimore has public financing for the stadium -- St. Louis is the only other city in that category -- selling those seats means Baltimore can guarantee each visiting team $1 million.

Those seat sales also would enable the owner to pay the high expansion fee set by the league. The league seemed almost embarrassed to admit how high it was.

In the meeting room, the owners were told each franchise would cost $191 million -- a $140 million basic fee, $16 million in interest and $35 million in lost TV revenue because the teams get only half their share during the first three years. The owners also reserved the right to raise the fee 5 percent, or another $7 million, which would bring the tab to $198 million.

Outside the meeting room, the owners stressed the $140 million basic fee, even though they should have started at $156 million. Listing $16 million of the basic fee as interest was basically a gimmick to make the fee look cheaper.

But the new stadiums in Baltimore and St. Louis will support that fee. Along with Atlanta, they'll be the only NFL stadiums with club seats built with public money. The Falcons made between $8 million and $10 million profit in their new stadium last year, and the expansion teams can expect to do the same.

One note: A new Baltimore team would have a better deal than the Colts have in Indianapolis.

As NFL president Neil Austrian said: "These teams have a chance to be more profitable more quickly than some of our existing teams."

Finding a division

At the meeting last week, the owners talked about three scenarios for placing expansion teams in new divisions.

In the simplest scenario -- without realignment -- one team would go in the AFC Central and the other in the NFC West. Those are the two four-team divisions right now.

In the second scenario, five teams -- Indianapolis, Phoenix, the Los Angeles Raiders, Tampa Bay, Seattle -- would be moved. Those five teams and the two expanion teams -- if they're Baltimore and St. Louis -- either moved or were added in expansion since 1970. Under this scenario, Phoenix would leave the NFC East and Baltimore or Tampa Bay would be a logical replacement.

In the third scenario, a new Southeast or Gulf Coast division would be created. It would include Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Houston and one expansion team.

Baltimore could become a contender quickly in the AFC Central. The only team on the rise in that division seems to be the Pittsburgh Steelers under coach Bill Cowher.

But it would be more logical for Baltimore to be in the NFC East.

The ???? Patriots

League officials sent New England a not-so-subtle message last week that the price of keeping the team in the long run will be a new stadium.

Austrian said: "In the long term, if something can't be worked out, it's not in the league's interests to have an owner forced to remain in a situation without options where he's guaranteed to lose money and he can't field a competitive team. We've told the mayor and the governor that. It's just not logical to do that."

The situation will intensify this fall if St. Louis is awarded an expansion team. James Busch Orthwein, who wants to own the St. Louis expansion team, will want to sell the Patriots. The only problem is that the only buyers are likely to be losers in the expansion derby.

In New England, officials are saying the team can't be moved because it has a lease at Foxboro Stadium until the year 2002.

This has the all the makings of a lawsuit or two or three.

Meanwhile, Orthwein, who was hailed as a savior for buying the team last year when it was on the verge of going bankrupt, is getting bashed in Boston.

The Boston Globe's Will McDonough wrote that Orthwein told "lies" when he said he wanted to stabilize the franchise and added: "He told me last year he knew nothing about football. How can you be 68 years old in America and know nothing about football? It's easy to do if you live in a mansion all your life and hire lightweight advisers to tell you what to do."

It's obviously going to get nasty, and Orthwein may rue the day that he bought the Patriots.

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