Is City Losing NFL Bid? `Electricity' Lacking, League Officials Say

Article excerpt

For the better part of two years, St. Louis has enjoyed front-runner status in the race for a National Football League expansion team.

It had the stadium. It had the ownership group. It had the market size. In short, it was considered a "lock" for a team.

But that no longer is the case after presentations Tuesday and Wednesday before the league's finance and expansion committees in Chicago.

Jerry Clinton, chairman and chief executive officer of the St. Louis NFL Partnership, said league officials have told him as much.

"The NFL has concerns in two areas of our application," Clinton said Thursday.

Concern No. 1:

"They're concerned as to the completion of our Partnership group, not necessarily who's in it, but just that it's completed," Clinton said. "I told them I would get it done."

Concern No. 2:

"They wonder about the electricity in St. Louis," Clinton said.

He wasn't talking about Union Electric Co.

"They point out that we sold out our stadium bonds in 72 hours," Clinton said. "That we had an overflow crowd for our exhibition game."

Both those developments occurred in the summer of 1991.

"But in the last few months, they don't see that," Clinton said. "They wonder, `Where's the juice?' "

Like expansion groups in four other cities, the St. Louis NFL Partnership must forward a $20 million letter of credit to the league by Oct. 11. If St. Louis hasn't sold out its club seats and luxury boxes in advance of that date, Clinton said, "I don't look for our chances to be very good."

Unlike competitors in Baltimore, Charlotte, N.C., Jacksonville, Fla., and Memphis, Tenn., St. Louis has failed to sell out the 100 luxury boxes and 6,252 club seats in the domed stadium under construction downtown.

Because of St. Louis' failure to sell out, Clinton said the NFL "has concerns about ability to support our team if they give us another franchise."

Although sympathetic about the sluggish start to the St. Louis campaign because of the flood, Clinton says the league's attitude now is: "The flood was yesterday."

In summation, Clinton said, "We're out of excuses. We've got 90 percent of a franchise. We're only 10 percent away from getting a franchise."

St. Louis has sold about 90 percent of its premium seats. In a change of policy, the Partnership no longer is willing to disclose exact sales figures.

Although some of Clinton's comments can be chalked up to salesmanship, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue dropped some fairly strong hints in Chicago that the league might be forced to go elsewhere if St. …