Belgrad not in rush to alter game plan To survey sources on ownership issue


There will be no knee-jerk reaction to the latest delay in Baltimore's bid for an NFL expansion team.

Saying he did not want to get "caught up in any hysteria," Herbert J. Belgrad said yesterday he remains open to revising the city's application, but only after consultation with sources inside the league.

"St. Louis has had ownership problems," the chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority said. "I do not want to shift their problems on me. My initial reaction is, I'm not going to try to fix it if it's not broken."

In the wake of Tuesday's expansion impasse and subsequent speculation that Baltimore's ownership package is flawed, there is sentiment for finding a new investor before the league names a second expansion city to go with Charlotte on Nov. 30.

For now, Belgrad says he stands solidly behind the two existing ownership groups, led by Florida businessman Malcolm Glazer and clothing magnate Leonard "Boogie"Weinglass. But if his sources tell him to find a new money man, he says he has at least four options to consider. They include two men who have been identified, and two who have not.

The two names that have surfaced recently are Houston businessman Robert McNair and Los Angeles movie producer Jeffrey Lurie, neither of whom has returned phone calls this week.

Belgrad would only identify the other two groups in vague terms.

"One is somebody who says, 'If Baltimore is awarded a franchise and I am requested to lead an ownership group or be the owner, I will do it,' " Belgrad said. "It is somebody who can handle it without any assistance."

The final group is made up of some local investors who approached Mathias J. DeVito, chairman of the Rouse Co., about his possible involvement last month. DeVito is a member of Baltimore's expansion committee.

"Matt's response was that in his current role his objective is to work on behalf of the two existing owners, and that he wouldn't entertain any suggestion about getting directly involved as long as he was convinced we had two groups that were acceptable," Belgrad said. "He didn't solicit that kind of proposal."

Alfred Lerner, chairman of MNC Financial Inc. until its recent merger with NationsBank, also has been linked to Baltimore's NFL bid. Lerner has minority interest in the Cleveland Browns.

Lurie is a friend of New York Giants co-owner Robert Tisch, and looked into the possibility of buying the New England Patriots recently. He is the nephew of a Boston-area businessman.

Lurie was in Baltimore last weekend, visiting with Belgrad and stadium authority adviser Ernie Accorsi on Friday, and Gov. William Donald Schaefer on Saturday.

Belgrad said he has had discussions with Lurie's attorneys, "but all those discussions were along the same lines. I said we had two ownership groups that we had full confidence in, that they had qualified in every respect, and therefore we weren't encouraging any other groups to muddy the waters."

It is possible Belgrad will reconsider shortly, though. A scheduled meeting yesterday with Schaefer, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and DeVito was postponed until next week.

"Everything's wide-open," Belgrad said. "I have no intention at this point of modifying our financial plan or our lease terms. On the other hand, after we speak with people who we feel are credible, there's flexibility. If we feel based on what we hear it's necessary to modify any part of the plan, we're open-minded. As of today, our position has not changed in any respect to two ownership groups. Again, we're not foreclosing any possibility.

"We're going to move aggressively and actively to sew up a franchise."

Belgrad said his relationship with the Glazer family was not strained by the fact they independently offered a new, improved visitor's share of gate receipts in Chicago. He said he has not spoken to the Glazers since the meeting.

"Over a period of time, I've gotten to know the Glazer boys [Bryan and Joel], and we've developed an excellent relationship," Belgrad said. "I have a lot of respect for them because they're always prepared, do their homework and they care. They're very committed to this effort. It's like anything else. You have some differences from time to time."

Joel Glazer, who lives in Montgomery County, confirmed a Channel 11 report Wednesday that his family had been approached by St. Louis investor Jerry Clinton about two weeks ago with an invitation to join that city's expansion effort.

"We had absolutely no interest," Glazer said. "We are committed to Baltimore. I live in Maryland. It's my home. I've been in this two years, working tirelessly. Baltimore is the only city we want to own an NFL team in. When he called, we didn't even listen to him."

Glazer said he believes Baltimore should stand pat. "It'd be a mistake to change anything at this point," he said.

As for his family's relationship with the stadium authority, he said, "We still feel comfortable with the situation."

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