MOVING THE BALL
FEBRUARY 8, 1996
National Football League owners meet Friday to vote on the planned move of the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. It is a plan that has the city of Cleveland up in arms (Click here for a background report by Tom Bearden), but it is only one of several moves currently being considered.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We're joined from Boston by Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, and by NBC broadcaster Bob Costas, who joins us from St. Louis. Thank you both for being with us. Mr. Kraft, we heard about the economic background to the Cleveland Browns situation. Is that true for the other teams that also have expressed a desire to move? Is it basically the same factors that are causing the moves?
ROBERT KRAFT, New England Patriots: (Boston) Well, I, I think each community has a unique set of circumstances, but the economics of the NFL the way it exists now with the revenue sharing plan we have with our players, the top teams' revenues skew what we have to pay the players. We pay 63 percent of gross, so those teams that don't have good revenue flows from their stadiums are not going to be able to compete long-term in the new NFL.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think generally that franchise stability is a good thing? Is it something that should be promoted and desired?
MR. KRAFT: You know, there's no doubt in my mind, I had the privilege of buying this team in New England two years ago, and the fans have come out in great form. We've sold out every game, and I now realize that I'm really a custodian of a public asset. I think that these teams belong to the communities they've been in for so long, and that it's unfortunate if the fans who have supported team, and Cleveland is the perfect example, get caught in battles between politicians and owners. I believe that what we're about as a product is bigger than those petty fights.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Bob Costas, what about the other moves? Do you know anything about those moves that makes them different from the Cleveland situation?
BOB COSTAS, NBC: (St. Louis) I--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It's pretty much the same deal?
MR. COSTAS: I think they're all the same deal. It's only a matter of degree. The Cleveland situation is the one that has drawn the most national attention because it's the most outrageous. The Browns are one of the most traditional franchises in all of sports, a team identified not just with their city but with the entire history of the League, a national franchise in a sense, in terms of being one of the signature teams of the NFL, and as your report indicated, they've had almost unparalleled support. So leaving aside the merits of Art Modell's argument, assuming there are any or Ken Behring's in Seattle or Bud Adam's in Nashville, or Houston to Nashville, what fans everywhere are now saying is wait a minute, if this can happen with these teams, especially the Cleveland Browns, is any city safe? Is any franchise safe? And what's the meaning of an attachment to a team? If I'm City B and the team has abandoned City A, despite rabid fan support that they've had in Seattle for example, or in Cleveland, now they come to my city, what kind of fool's arrangement is this where I say, ah, it's my team, I'll love this team, I'll be devoted to this team, I'll pass that allegiance on to my children? Eventually, if this keeps up, it's not just going to affect the city specifically involved in the franchise transfers, it'll affect the credibility of the entire league because fans everywhere will begin to wonder just how truthful is this supposed arrangement between a team which appropriates the name of the city and wears colors to represent that city and the fans who support it but then eventually run the risk of being abandoned?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, and Bob Costas, what about a solution which has been suggested, that the team would move to Baltimore but the name and the uniform would stay and another team would come and be the Cleveland Browns, what do you think about that solution?
MR. COSTAS: Well, regardless of the other reason for which he might be fairly criticized, Ken Behring in Seattle, attempting to move his team to Southern California has said I'll leave the name Seahawks and I'll leave the Seahawks colors behind and, in effect, start a new history in Southern California. While it would be preferable for the Browns not to leave Cleveland at all, one possible compromise making the best of a bad situation is just what you suggest, Elizabeth, that maybe they should go to Baltimore and become the Baltimore Crab Cakes or the Baltimore Modells or whatever, and leave the name Browns and the team colors and even the team records behind. Let someone wearing the uniform of the Cleveland Browns try to break Jimmy Brown's records or Brian Sipes' passing records or whatever the case may be, and let Art Modell start, in effect, a new franchise, with a new history from day one in Baltimore, if he can't be stopped from moving there in the first place.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Kraft, what do you think about that?
MR. KRAFT: Well, I think Bob is right on, that the fans support--we have to be careful not to abuse the fans' support that we've been giving. They're the ones watching on TV, buying the paraphernalia, and in the end, we've built a trust with them, and if we start pushing them around, then I believe it'll hurt the overall product and the strength of the NFL. Think about it. A hundred and thirty-eight million people on Super Bowl Sunday watched our product. We have to hold that trust very dearly, and do everything we can to solidify the franchises staying in their hometowns.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But, Mr. Kraft, you would not--you wouldn't support something which would make it impossible for teams to move? You think they should be able to move sometimes, don't you?
MR. KRAFT: Well, under certain circumstances I don't believe a community gets the benefit of a team unless it's competitive, the economic benefits that Mayor White spoke about, and if, if--they're in a bad situation where they don't get fan support, or they can't get the infrastructure support to build a new venue, then they should be free to move in a limited area. The problem we have right now is that the owners have been suing each other ever since this Al Davis move.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You're talking about the Raiders' move to LA from Oakland?
MR. KRAFT: Right. And I think if we could get some kind of limited anti-trust exemption, that that would do a lot for those owners who want to see stability. I'm a new owner who paid a very high price two years ago. I think it's good business that the team stay in the markets they're in, and we not have free agency in franchises.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Can you explain how getting the limited anti-trust exemption would help you?
MR. KRAFT: Well, my understanding of that is that would prevent--that would allow us to have a set of rules that we could follow without having our partners sue us if we tried to block them from getting another better economic deal. See, I don't think anyone should come into this business who's driven by dollars and cents because there are a lot easier ways to make money and they really have to look at themselves as custodians of public assets.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Because this Cleveland-Baltimore deal has generated so much interest, and there's been so much news about what Baltimore offered, I want to talk about that with you, Mr. Kraft, for a minute, and also with Mr. Costas, what is the benefit of a team? There seems to be a big debate over this? How much economic benefit really accrues to a city from an NFL team?
MR. KRAFT: Well, our analysis shows that we bring directly between--we have an income tax here in Massachusetts, if you don't know, close to 7 percent. So our payroll between the stadium and the team is $60 million, is $4 million direct state income tax, but overall, we feel we bring $20 million in direct taxes and on a ripple effect probably closer to $40 to $50 million. So that by itself would support some kind of public support of infrastructure, not to lose that revenue base.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Bob Costas, what is your understanding of how much money a team brings in? You know this better than I, but there is so much debate about it, and I've seen the economists who say that a team brings little more benefit than a Wal-Mart.
MR. COSTAS: Well, I may know it a little bit better than you, Elizabeth. I don't know it as well as some economists do. I have seen various reports, you perhaps have seen them too, where economists say that the benefit is overstated because the entertainment dollars specifically are not additional dollars brought to a community by a sports team but simply dollars that would be spent someplace else, at the movies, at a restaurant, at an amusement park. Now, I know that interpretation is subject to debate, but that thought is out there. I think the benefit varies from community to community. The concept of giving businesses a break in order to attract new revenues or bring or keep jobs in the community, that concept exists outside of sports, cities bid for conventions, they bid to bring industries and factories into, into their communities, so there's nothing wrong with that in theory, but it's a matter of priorities. Should a city, which may have trouble with its police department being under-funded, or its roads need repairs or its school system is in need of upgrading, should that city bid as avidly as some cities have to enrich already wealthy players and owners at the expense of other city priorities? It isn't that there isn't a benefit to having a team, but where does it fit when we prioritize things?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Kraft, how would you answer that? You want Boston to build a new stadium, right?
MR. KRAFT: Well, no, let me clarify that. I think Bob hit it well, especially in the older Northeastern cities, there are a lot of priorities in the school systems, welfare, and a number of other areas. We have a plan for a privately-financed stadium up here, and we're looking for government support in terms of infrastructure and in terms of transportation, and roadways and other things. Similar to what it's done to bring other businesses there. But I believe there's a certain psychic benefit of a team when it does well in a community that can't be duplicated anywhere else. In this town, I know in ‘'75, when they had the busing problems, and the Red Sox were in a pennant drive, it did more than anything else that helped to cool down feelings in this city. That was told to me by the publisher of the "Boston Globe."
MR. COSTAS: I think what Bob says is correct, Elizabeth. Again, keeping it in perspective, and within reason, a sports team can be somebody important to a city's identity. Ironically, the Cleveland Indians, along with other developments, the Rock'N Roll Hall of Fame included, raised people's consciousness about Cleveland outside the city. It changed the city's whole sense of itself, the way the Indians performed this year, got to the World Series, brand new ball park, so there's no denying that it can be a plus. The question is: How far do you want to go, especially when it approaches an extortion game, in order to raise people's spirits?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And finally, Bob Costas, on all the--I want to talk about the lawsuits briefly. There's a whole series of lawsuits. Cleveland's filed a lawsuit against the NFL and against--and Baltimore has filed a lawsuit or Maryland has. What kind of effect is that having on the NFL and on football?
MR. COSTAS: Well, it's having a chilling effect on the League's ability to regulate these franchise moves, because in antitrust cases, you're looking at triple damages if you lose, and that's why Commissioner Tagliabue has gone before Congress and asked for a limited antitrust exemption, which would allow the League to write rules that would still permit some franchise shifts in specific situations but the rules supposedly would be reasonable and they would be enforced in an evenhanded way, and if the team didn't qualify under those League rules, as a member of the League, as part of the partnership, they could be turned down. I think Commissioner Tagliabue was correct when he says the enterprise is the League itself. When each of these franchises begin to operate in maverick fashion, it weakens everything that has allowed the League to flourish, and by extension has allowed the players too to flourish with all the income that they share in.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Kraft, we just have a few seconds left. Do yo have any sense of how the vote will go tomorrow on the move to Baltimore?
MR. KRAFT: Well, I have a feeling, given what Bob has described so well, that we have a need to solve the problems of both Baltimore and Cleveland and I hope we can start to attract owners that don't believe you do business by suing one another and get ourselves out of the court.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Thank you both for being with us.
MR. KRAFT: Thank you, Elizabeth.
MR. COSTAS: Thank you, Elizabeth.