Mayors Plan More Study on Issue of Wandering Sports Teams
CLEVELAND (AP) _ Mayors from NFL cities across the country ended a two-day conference Friday with plans to look for new ways to quell the dollar-driven wanderlust of pro sports franchises.
The conference was organized by Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White, who is fighting to prevent Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell from moving his team to Baltimore next year.
White’s administration has tied the move up in the courts, marshaled the anger of thousands of frustrated fans and is preparing a lavish presentation for the NFL owners meeting next month.
Cleveland is far from alone _ the Houston Oilers are leaving for Tennessee, and there have been rumblings involving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals, Seattle Seahawks and other teams.
Communities are spending huge sums to lure franchises, hoping to recoup the investment through economic development, increased visibility and civic pride.
``The issue has got to go beyond Cleveland,″ White said Friday. ``I can assure you that even if this is resolved on Jan. 17 to our satisfaction, the next day it could be Pontiac, Mich.; it’s already Houston, the next day, God forbid, it could be Cincinnati or even Green Bay, Wis.
``The issue becomes, how do you restore sanity to an insane situation that is literally costing communities millions of dollars and forcing many of their civic agendas to be put on hold?″ White said.
Seattle mayor Norm Rice, outgoing president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, announced the formation of a study group that includes White, Cincinnati’s Roxanne Qualls, Houston’s Bob Lanier and Tampa’s Dick Greco. The group is to consider the problem further and report at the conference’s meeting next month, Rice said.
The owners hold the upper hand now, Lanier said.
``We’re outgunned when an individual mayor comes in to do business with an owner who’s backed by the league, backed by experience, back by lawyers who are skilled in breaking leases, by lawyers who are skilled in negotiations, and by a set of economics _ by the time you get up to speed, it may be too late,″ Lanier said.
Others on the panel are Green Bay’s Paul Jadin, Pontiac’s Walter Moore, Minneapolis’ Sharon Sayles Belton and Pittsburgh’s Tom Murphy.
The mayors’ meeting ends as Cleveland prepares for what could be the Browns’ final home game at Cleveland Stadium. An assembly of students that had been scheduled for Friday was postponed to next month, to be part of the ``two-minute warning″ campaign leading up to the Jan. 17 vote.
But a noon rally is planned for Sunday, before the 1 p.m. game with Cincinnati. And while 19,000 tickets remain for the game, ``Save Our Browns″ campaign chief Duane Salls said he remains confident of a good turnout.
``We’ll still get about 60,000 people there,″ Salls said. ``Those 19,000 people, those are some very hurt people who don’t want to face impending doom. The rest _ the 60,000 _ represent a community who says, `We’re there anyway. Whether you say you’re going or not, we don’t care _ we’re there to the bitter end.‴
The mayors said they hope that the more city leaders learn, the less they will be willing to engage in a cutthroat competition for franchises.
``I don’t think (the late Green Bay coach) Curly Lambeau or (Chicago Bears founder) George Halas intended the league to be what it is today,″ Jadin said. ``I don’t think the fans in Green Bay can start hating the Gary Bears the way they hate the Chicago Bears.″