Baltimore's chances of luring the Bengals from Cincinnati appeared to diminish yesterday, when team vice president Mike Brown softened his stadium demands in a meeting with new Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls.
Brown told the mayor he would be willing to stay in Cincinnati for several years without an ironclad commitment for a new stadium if the city would "invest in our future" with short-term financial help, he told the Cincinnati Enquirer after the meeting.
Brown wouldn't publicly specify what he wanted, but he termed his new request a "bridging agreement" to cover the period of "some years" the city would need to fully develop a new stadium plan.
It's assumed that the agreement would include a sweetening of the provisions of the club's lease at Riverfront Stadium, including a share of the parking revenue.
Brown was irritated last week when Qualls suggested building a new, baseball-only stadium for the Reds and leaving the Bengals at a renovated Riverfront Stadium. Brown responded that staying at Riverfront Stadium "threatens our very existence as a business" and suggested he'd be willing to move to get a new stadium.
Qualls subsequently said the City Council would study its priorities and decide by Jan. 1 if a new stadium for the Bengals were one of them.
Brown, meanwhile, did keep his options open. He said he only would negotiate exclusively with Cincinnati until Nov. 30, when the NFL is scheduled to name its second expansion city.
Brown said: "This might be a dual-track thing for us. I know there are others out there who have their noses up on the window. They want the club, and they want the keys to the door."
Four cities -- St. Louis, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Fla., and Memphis, Tenn. -- are the finalists for the second team. Charlotte, N.C., was awarded the first expansion team Oct. 26.
Brown has said he prefers an open-air, 70,000-seat stadium with 100 luxury boxes, which is what Baltimore is planning to build at Camden Yards if it gets a football franchise.
Several other teams besides the Bengals are expected to look at the Baltimore deal if the city doesn't get an expansion team.
The only other one publicly to express an interest besides the Bengals is the Los Angeles Rams. John Shaw, the team's executive vice president, has said the team will look at Baltimore "when the dust settles."
Shaw said yesterday that he has had a conversation with Larry Lucchino, the former Orioles president who is leaving the club. Shaw described their conversation as exploratory.
Shaw said Lucchino called him at his request after Shaw told mutual friends he was interested in talking to Lucchino.
Lucchino was a secretary and general counsel for the Washington Redskins in the 1970s, when Edward Bennett Williams ran the club before he bought the Orioles.
Lucchino hasn't commented publicly on his plans, but said: "I like it here a lot. I've said that before."
If Lucchino were to remain in Baltimore in a sports job and not with the Orioles, one alternative would be to get involved with a football team.
But Lucchino wouldn't discuss any specifics of his conversation with Shaw.
"We have a lot of mutual friends, and they suggested we should talk, so we had a conversation," Lucchino said. "I'm not prepared to say anything more than that."