Stadium Naysayers Proven Wrong … Again
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
In the aftermath of Baltimore fans' unimaginable loss of their beloved Baltimore Colts, in March 1984, city and state officials had to scramble for a long time to get into the position of regaining such a valued asset.
There were false starts when some local business leaders made a rogue effort to steal the New Orleans Saints. Then there were state officials' misguided efforts to play by the rules and get the NFL to award one of two expansion teams in 1993, which ultimately were the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Through that process, state officials laid their financial cards on the table. Those cards, which former Gov. William Donald Schaefer created, were put into play when former Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams signed off on a long-term lease, which paved the way for the building of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Schaefer had the wisdom and foresight to include language that allowed for the financing of an NFL stadium should the city be able to gain a franchise by the end of calendar year 1995.
Believe it or not, there was much wringing of hands and angry folks who disagreed with the potential building of two stadiums in downtown Baltimore. But what those dissidents failed to pay attention to was that direct tax dollars would not be part of the funding. Rather, that funding would come from those that played special lottery games with money dedicated to stadium building. Those dollars would be combined with money raised through the sale of municipal bonds.
When Oriole Park at Camden Yards debuted in '92, officials knew they had lost out in the pre-wired expansion process. Market size, new markets and some unfair payola-type dynamics played into the awarding of the two aforementioned expansion franchises. But it was also at that time that St. Louis, the home of NFL sponsor Budweiser, obtained the Los Angeles Rams.
What the expansion derby did was allow state officials to disclose the financial package they were preparing to offer a new tenant of the proposed new stadium.
It was during those proceedings that three franchises compared their current situations with what they could gain by moving to Baltimore. Those three franchises were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ultimately sold to one of the losing bidders in Baltimore, Malcolm Glazer; the Los Angeles Raiders and their owner Al Davis, who was later wooed back to Oakland; and the Cleveland Browns, owned by Art Modell.
Modell was in a unique situation with city officials that were placing their resources elsewhere, a changing financial structure in the game and the need for an ultimate exit strategy. All of that made for a match that brought about the move of the Browns and the creation of the Ravens.
The naysayers who objected to money going toward stadium funding back then were wrong, and the size of the parade today and the passion in the hearts of Baltimore fans proved they remain wrong today.
Posted Feb. 5, 2013