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NFL push could be ticket to going at all


Do you wonder if Baltimore will get back in the National Football League?

Do you wonder if this city's NFL expansion committee can sell 7,500 club seats and 100 private suites by Sept. 3 for a team that may never exist in a stadium that, if it's built, won't be ready until 1996?

Of course you wonder. Every sports-minded Marylander does.

After attending an information update yesterday at the Gallery at Harborplace, I'm starting to think we should be worrying about something else, namely:

Will you be able to get tickets if we do get a team?

I think we'll get the team.

Whoever owns it, either Boogie Weinglass and friends or the Glazer family, will have such a sweetheart deal -- $1-a-year lease for a funded stadium, all the concessions, all the parking -- that the 28 NFL owners will see Baltimore as their own best deal.

The only question has seemed to be the sale of premium seating. Herb Belgrad, co-chair with Matt De Vito of the local expansion committee, all but made that question academic.

"We have letters of commitment for the 70 suites," said Belgrad. "We have checks for the club seats. This is not just talk or speculation. These are firm figures."

When Belgrad and his cohorts use that language -- "firm figures" -- they're referring in a subtle way to Charlotte, N.C., Baltimore's competition for one of the two franchises to be awarded in late October.

It seems to be a given that the other franchise will go to St. Louis.

Charlotte also is selling premium seating to prove to the NFL it has sufficient interest in pro football.

How are they doing in Carolina?

"They say they're sold out," said David Julien, who has worked since day one with the Baltimore expansion effort.

"You sound as if you don't believe 'em?" I said.

"They can say anything they want," Julien answered with a shrug. "That's all part of the game."

But Charlotte has stadium financing problems. Baltimore hasn't. And here the tickets are selling so briskly that Ernie Accorsi, adviser to the local committee, says he's "shocked."

"We're basically undefeated," Accorsi said of the sales pitches he and Julien have made for the luxury suites. "We've dealt personally with everyone. We're not phoning people and asking them to put up $45,000 to $100,000.

"We've received one no. Of the 70 who said yes, one commitment was for three years, two were for five years. The rest were for seven years."

Does Accorsi think the rest of the premium seats will be sold?

"We expect to sell out in advance of the deadline," he said. "We had 3,000 requests for 1,000 club seats at $700. Buying these seats is the only guarantee people have that they'll get in the stadium."

That's what this ticket push is coming to: the realization that if people don't buy now, they may be shut out.

"I hear that from people every day," said Bob Wheeler, a 66-year-old volunteer who helps man the ticket office on the second level of the Gallery.

"We don't get much corporate business for the club seats. Maybe a real small company. And we don't grab Joe Blow walking by our door and try to sell him.

"We get people who come in, knowing they want to buy the tickets. We might get two married couples, or a small group of friends. The one thing they keep saying is they want to make sure they get seats.

"We had a bunch of old Colt Corral people in here from just above Harrisburg [Pa.]. They bought four $700 seats in the end zone. They just want to make sure they get in.

"It's almost impossible to get tickets for the Redskins, Giants or Eagles. I can honestly see where Baltimore might have 200,000 people who'll want seats in a 70,000-seat stadium."

Wheeler, a retired salesman who describes himself as a professional volunteer, helped with the All-Star Game last week.

Wheeler graduated from City College in '42. He was a Colts fan throughout the Unitas era. He knows Baltimore.

"This is a baseball town right now," he said, "but it used to be a football town. What we are, really, is a sports town.

"That's obvious when you see people putting up $700 for an end zone seat for a team we don't have yet. A lot of these people plan to share the tickets with friends, the way so many Orioles fans are sharing season tickets at Camden Yards. When they divide it, the price becomes manageable.

"The important thing to these people is the two-for-one. When you take two $700 tickets on a seven-year lease, you also have first option on four additional season tickets. People want to make sure they get in."

All this has me thinking. I'd better get my money in if I want my own family to see pro football in Baltimore.

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