Charlotte ups the ante, raises NFL gate receipts Club offer is highest of 5 finalist cities


NFL backers in Charlotte, N.C., facing lingering questions about their financial plan, have revised it again and now boast that they will be able to pay visiting teams more in gate receipts than any other city in the running for an expansion team.

In the third change in the city's financial plan in the past month, Charlotte's NFL investment group notified the league Thursday that it no longer will request a temporary exemption from the league's traditional ticket-sharing split.

"The partners want to do everything possible," said Max Muhleman, a consultant working on behalf of the city's bid.

The NFL is expected to award two expansion franchises at a meeting Tuesday in Chicago.

Generally, NFL teams share 40 percent of the gate with visiting teams. But in some cases clubs have been allowed to retain annual fees charged for club seats, a mezzanine-level class of premium seats.

Charlotte's investors had formally requested such an exemption to help pay stadium debt, but league officials resisted. The group then reduced the exemption request from 15 to five years, and Thursday they sent a letter to the NFL asking for the request to be withdrawn, Muhleman said.

Without the $3.2 million diversion of club-seat revenue, the city projects it will pay visiting teams $1.235 million in shared ticket receipts for every game, Muhleman said. Of the other cities seeking a franchise, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Fla., and St. Louis project a visiting gate receipt of about $1 million each, and Memphis about $900,000.

Before the change, Charlotte's visitor's share would have been $950,000, compared with league average of $500,000.

Because they lack public funding for a stadium, the NFL investors in Charlotte plan to finance privately the stadium and the club -- a more than $300 million undertaking. The group has tapped several sources to accomplish this: massive borrowing, one-time fees charged to season-ticket holders, and retention of some club-seat revenue.

League officials say they are concerned about a number of aspects of the plan, including the debt involved, but the club-seat diversion seemed most offensive to NFL team owners.

Muhleman said the investors have agreed to forgo a return on their money for even longer than initially planned, meaning the payments will be stretched out farther. There will be no increase in the team's debt load -- already the highest among the five cities -- as a result, he said.

"It's fine with the banks, and it's fine with the league," Muhleman said of the plan.

Baltimore's planners have discussed adding hundreds of club seats and as many as 50 sky boxes to the proposed stadium, which calls for 7,500 club seats and 108 sky boxes. The additional premium seats would add to the total take for both home and visiting teams.

Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said he has made the NFL aware that changes could be made to the stadium design. But he plans no revision in the city's application at the 11th hour, as other cities have.

"The [NFL] owners are businessmen, and they realize you don't just put a deal together at the last minute and put a Band-Aid on it," Belgrad said.

Baltimore intends to trumpet itself as a stable candidate at the meetings on Tuesday, free of the sort of turmoil that has marked Charlotte and St. Louis during the past few weeks, he said.

Meanwhile, a committee of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce has planned a victory parade for next Friday. The group has sent out invitations and is planning a fireworks show to celebrate what its hopes will be a successful bid next week.

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