Baltimore makes play for the ball NFL responds well, delegation says

THE BALTIMORE SUN

CHICAGO -- Leaders of Baltimore's nearly 10-year drive to return to the National Football League laid out their case yesterday and reported a good response from league officials.

"I think it went great. We anticipated just about everything they could ask," said Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a member of Baltimore's nine-member delegation.

"I couldn't tell anything from their questions except they seemed very favorable," Mr. Schaefer said.

Baltimore is competing with St. Louis, Charlotte, N.C.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Jacksonville, Fla., for one of two expansion franchises the NFL plans to award at meetings here Oct. 26-28.

St. Louis, Jacksonville and Baltimore made presentations yesterday to the finance and expansion committees of team owners who will make recommendations to the full ownership next month. The other two cities are expected to make their 1 1/2 -hour presentations today.

Baltimore's pitch was simple: Its location along the NFL-congested Eastern Seaboard and its loss of a team nearly 10 years ago may not make it the obvious choice, but its lucrative package of a publicly built, football-only stadium and generous lease terms do.

All of the city delegations expressed confidence at the end of their presentations yesterday, including Baltimore.

"You can rest assured that the city is going to get the team. I think it's a lock. And I think I'm the favorite," said Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, the chairman of Joppa-based retailer Merry-Go-Round Enterprises, who is leading a group trying to buy a franchise for Baltimore.

He and the other prospective Baltimore franchise owner, Florida-based investor Malcolm Glazer, made separate pitches to the committees at the conclusion of the city's talk. Both offered subtle jabs at the other afterward.

The proposed team owners were a study in contrasts, with the freewheeling, ponytailed Mr. Weinglass promoting the local ties of his group, which includes moviemaker and Baltimore native Barry Levinson. Mr. Weinglass, also a Baltimore native, wore black, snakeskin cowboy boots and a light-colored, double-breasted suit. It was the first time he'd worn a tie since the last NFL presentations in 1991, he said.

"I think they like that we're members of the Baltimore community, emotionally and financially," Mr. Weinglass said.

Mr. Glazer, dressed in a conservative, dark suit and black, wingtip shoes, said the questions he got reflected the advantage of his solo bid: single owner, deep pockets and strong family involvement.

"I think they are very concerned about having a good, stable ownership. They have had some problems in the past that were not good. I think they like single-family ownership," Mr. Glazer said.

The league is expected to choose between the two owners when it selects the cities next month.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said all of the cities appearing yesterday performed well, and none either stumbled so badly or excelled so dramatically to alter the competition fundamentally.

"I think they were each effective in their own way," he said.

"The basic purpose of the meetings today was information-gathering, fact-finding and to form some firsthand impressions about the cities," Mr. Tagliabue said.

The cities will make short presentations to all NFL owners before the vote in October. But the expansion and finance committees probably will have decided already on their recommendations by then. The committees next meet Oct. 13.

The city presentations were closed to the public. But participants in Baltimore's said it began with a short film featuring shots of the Inner Harbor -- before and after renovation -- as well as Camden Yards.

There were interviews with Mr. Schaefer, Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. chairman Raymond "Chip" Mason and ex-Colt Lenny Moore. The film closed with a clip from a Baltimore Colts game and John Unitas.

Then, Maryland Stadium Authority executive director Bruce Hoffman explained the lottery-backed bonds that would be used to finance a stadium and all the revenues the team owner would keep.

After Mr. Hoffman's presentation, San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos quipped, "I'll take that deal," according to one participant.

Mathias J. DeVito, chairman of the Rouse Co., a Columbia-based developer, talked about the city's growth and the Orioles' success.

Then Mr. Schaefer confirmed the state's commitment to fund a new stadium and made what was described by others as an emotional appeal to the owners' bottom-line sensibilities.

"They asked good questions and they understood our message and we feel good about our presentation," said Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the stadium authority, who emceed the presentation and laid out some of the financial details, stressing the estimated $1 million share of ticket sales visiting teams would earn each time they played in Baltimore.

Mr. Weinglass said several team owners jokingly offered to trade teams with him, a reflection that a Baltimore team would be one of the most profitable in sports, generating net pretax income of $28 million a year within its first few years.

The issue of the city's proximity to Washington came up only once, during the question-and-answer part of the presentation, Mr. DeVito said. He responded by noting that only a fraction of club seats and sky boxes sold as part of the summer premium-seat drive went to Washington customers. That was evidence, he said, that a Baltimore team would not eat into Redskins territory.

Mr. DeVito also said television ratings in Baltimore for Redskins games are sometimes topped by other football games, indicating the market has not settled on the neighboring franchise, he said.

Mr. Weinglass said he was asked about the departure of the Colts, who lost fans in droves during their final years. He replied by saying poor marketing and lack of local ownership eroded the team's following.

He said he faced no questions about his colorful past -- including admitted gambling -- but volunteered information on why his bid has not been hurt by the fall in Merry-Go-Round stock.

The Baltimore ownership groups were scheduled to meet this morning with officials from NFL Properties, the merchandising arm of the league. A decision on a name for a Baltimore team could come out of that session, Mr. Weinglass said. The groups are debating Ravens, Cobras and Bombers, he said.

The other cities seemed equally optimistic after their presentations:

* Jerry Clinton, the lead investor for a St. Louis team, said he unveiled a new investor for his partnership during the session. He declined to identify the new partner, other than to say he was a St. Louis-area business figure who would help fill the gaps left by the recent departure of James Busch Orthwein, the former lead investor in the city's effort.

Mr. Clinton said he does not consider the city's failure to sell out club seats and sky boxes to be a liability. St. Louis was the only city that failed to sell out, ending the league-designed, two-month marketing campaign with 83 of 100 sky boxes and 5,790 of 6,550 club seats leased.

The city blamed widespread flooding for dampening interest.

* Jacksonville's investors, led by shoe retailer J. Wayne Weaver, said they tried to deal head-on with the city's on-again, off-again NFL bid. Mr. Weaver dropped out for several weeks this summer, only to return when he made peace with the city government over lease terms on the Gator Bowl.

"They did want to understand what took place, and we clearly explained to them that you can't sign a lease unless the business deal works," Mr. Weaver said.

He said visiting teams in Jacksonville would take home $1.1 million to $1.4 million per game.

The city also announced a new investor yesterday, former Kansas City Chiefs player Deron Cherry. His inclusion means all the cities have black investors who would stand to become the first African-American owners in football.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
52°