Rest easy, NFL fans: Baltimore is getting an expansion team


Baltimore is going to get an NFL franchise.

At least that's how I see it with the league's decision on expansion less than two weeks off.

There's a tremendous amount of politicking and last-minute maneuvering going on, but people with any involvement in it seem to be saying either "don't quote me" or "you didn't talk to me but. . . . "

One key person who's not talking on or off the record is Roger Goodell, the NFL's vice president for operations. He's in the middle of the whole expansion process.

Goodell won't answer one simple question: Does the league have a problem with Baltimore's prospective ownership groups, Boogie Weinglass' or the Malcolm Glazer family's?

No one in the NFL office wants to say a word that could be construed as favoring one city over another.

Why will Baltimore get one of the two expansion franchises to be awarded this month? Because Baltimore's deal is the best.

It's better than Charlotte's, better than St. Louis', better than Jacksonville's, better than Memphis'. Baltimore's is the one package with no holes. It's too good to be passed up.

That's what this is all about anyway -- money. Look what the Baltimore owner gets:

* A $1-a-year lease to play in a brand new, state-of-the-art stadium with the funding in place.

* Guaranteed sellouts for seven years. The new owners won't have to do much ticket selling anyway. That work has been done for them by the Maryland Stadium Authority.

* Income from concessions, parking and signage. What's signage? If the new stadium has a huge sign that says: Read The Baltimore Sun, the team owner gets the money the newspaper spends for the advertising.

The owner here will even be able to keep the profit if he brings in Nirvana or Pearl Jam -- or even Michael Jackson -- for a concert in his stadium. Owners don't get that in other places, where the city owns the stadium and keeps the money.

When the Baltimore delegation spelled out the deal to the 12 NFL expansion and finance committee members in Chicago early this month, the owners' eyes lit up. Some of them said they wish they had this deal for themselves.

For months, everyone has been saying St. Louis ranks No. 1 in the expansion derby, with Baltimore and Charlotte in a close battle for No. 2. That has changed.

St. Louis is in trouble. That came about when James Busch Orthwein withdrew as majority owner. Now the head man in St. Louis, Jerry Clinton, is calling everywhere to pick up new investors.

Clinton called Marylander Nathan Landow and asked him to join his group. Landow hasn't been interested in owning an NFL team for two years. That's desperation on St. Louis' part.

Of course, the NFL would welcome an experience in a fresh area. Charlotte in the NFL would equate the Rocky Mountain high baseball enjoyed this summer with the Colorado Rockies.

Charlotte has one problem. It is now in its fourth re-financing of the team and stadium.

Even so, I think Charlotte and Baltimore -- one new city, one old one -- will get the franchises.

Baltimore's prospective owners had one disadvantage when they met with the league owners in Chicago. They had to talk about themselves. They had to compete with each other.

Each of the other cities has only one ownership group. They had only to sell their market. None of them had to do a 20-minute stand-up bit.

That may have contributed to reports that Boogie is too flamboyant for the NFL owners, while the Glazers are not flamboyant enough.

It seems too late for a radical change in Baltimore's football ownership. As we saw with baseball in August, radical things can happen at the 11th hour. On the day the Orioles were auctioned, Pete Angelos and Bill DeWitt joined forces. Boogie and the Glazers are not going to join forces, however.

There is fear on the part of some in the local effort that the control-minded NFL, seeking subservience from its owners, wants to put a parachute owner in here.

A parachute owner -- also known as a blind-date owner -- parachutes in from out of nowhere. The league has the right to appoint one. It has done it before.

That would be a lousy trick to play on the Glazers and on Boogie and his people. They have put time and money into this thing for two years.

Boogie, being local, has a lot of friends here who want to see him get the team. I know one thing: There's a warm feeling in Baltimore now about the new, local Orioles ownership. Football should learn a lesson from that.

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