Owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers said late Wednesday they were devastated by results from sales of Charter Seat Deposits and were looking at options for moving the team to Orlando should their effort in Tampa fail.
"Our first preference is here," said team vice president Joel Glazer, who flew to Tampa late Wednesday with his brother Bryan for a 10:15 p.m. news conference. "What's the next best option? It's Orlando, because our fans could still go to games."
Bucs officials met twice with Orlando area officials this week to discuss possibly moving the team there. After the second meeting, Orange County Chairman Linda Chapin said it sounded as if an announcement to move the team would come "in a few days."
Bryan Glazer said team officials learned Sunday night that less than 25,000 Charter Seat Deposits for a new stadium had been sold in the first part of the team's campaign.
"To be truthful, we were devastated," Bryan Glazer said. "We've worked very hard, but we haven't given up. We're still committed to the Tampa Bay area. We're just looking at options if it doesn't work out here."
Bryan Glazer said the team feels it needs deposits for 50,000 seats _ 38,000 regular seats and 12,000 club seats _ for the campaign to be a success. The Bucs' current season-ticket base is 32,000.
Officials had scheduled an announcement of the seat-deposit results on Nov. 13 at the end of the campaign. But the uproar over news of the Orlando meetings forced the Glazer brothers to fly back from their brother's wedding in Los Angeles to deal with questions.
The Glazers said they hadn't given up hope for getting a new stadium and keeping the team in Tampa, but said it would require quick action.
"This is it, it's the two-minute warning. We've got to step up," Joel Glazer said.
After meeting with Bucs officials Monday, Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood said she was told the campaign to sell seat deposits wasn't going well, and that "they are sincerely interested in us."
Bucs officials spent most of Wednesday downplaying speculation the team was packing.
"We are going to try to keep this football team in Tampa," said Bucs general manager Rich McKay, who attended the Orlando meetings with Bryan and Joel Glazer.
"Yes, the stadium effort is still a full go. Yes, we spent all afternoon talking with the task force talking about the ticket campaign.
"A lot of things are happening. Obviously, a lot of cities would just as soon see us quit that fight, and that will not happen."
Stadium Task Force Director Bill Johnson dismissed all the hubbub as a "Chicken Little reaction."
"The Bucs are still in this town, and they're ours to lose," he said.
Since buying the team in January, Malcolm Glazer and his sons have maintained they must have a new $168-million stadium in Tampa to recoup their investment. They offered to pay about half the cost, then asked fans to show their support by purchasing season tickets and making refundable Charter Seat Deposits at costs of $190 to $2,450.
The Stadium Task Force has earmarked state sales taxes and tourist development taxes to pay some of the new stadium's cost. But officials think taxpayers will need to come up with $4- to $6-million annually for 30 years to cinch the deal.
With indications that seat-deposit totals may disappoint and with sources of public financing for the stadium uncertain, some fans were disturbed by the reports of the Bucs' meetings published in Wednesday's Sentinel. A few even called the Times to say they had tried to put stop-payment orders on their seat deposits.
"I'm concerned," said Stadium Task Force member Leonard Levy. "I don't think they've opened the door to leave yet, but they're close to it."
Tampa Sports Authority Chairman Steve Anderson is concerned "about the mood in the community.
"I wish people would not panic or freak out, but just realize they have to do what it takes to keep the team in Tampa," Anderson said. "We need to settle down and quit worrying about Orlando, Baltimore, Los Angeles and any other city but Tampa. We've got to keep our eye on the target or we're going to lose this team."
Lee Chira, the chairman of the Orlando Area Sports Commission who invited Bucs officials to Monday's meetings, said his community merely wants to be ready if the Bucs do leave Tampa.
"I don't want to make it seem like they're chasing us," he said. "They're not. We're chasing them. We know Baltimore is on their doorstep. We just don't want to be left in the dust."
Orlando is a prime site for the Bucs because the NFL regards it as part of the Central Florida market _ meaning relocation fees would be minimal _ and because a way to pay for the $150-million stadium already exists.
Orange County has an agreement with businessman Norton Herrick to use an additional 1-cent tourist-development tax for a new stadium if Herrick can land a major league baseball team for Orlando. But the Glazers could grab that funding if Herrick wanted to sell the contract rights, which expire in March 1997.
So far, Herrick has indicated he would pay up to $100-million to keep a piece of the action _ but won't prevent the city from getting an NFL franchise.
"Herrick would like to be co-owner (of the Bucs) and would write a check for half of whatever Glazer has invested in the team," recounted Chira, who talked with Herrick Tuesday. "But he also came back and said he wouldn't stand in the way of Orlando getting a franchise either."
There's another reason the Glazers might prefer to move to Orlando. Under terms of the $192-million contract to buy the team from the Hugh Culverhouse estate, Malcolm Glazer agreed to pay the trustees a $35-million penalty if he moved the Bucs from Tampa. The penalty if the team goes to Orlando, however, is substantially less, trustee Steve Story said Wednesday.
There are other suitors.
Chira said he had been told that Baltimore and Los Angeles both have "offers on the table" to help lure the team.
Los Angeles has been without pro football since the Rams took a sweet relocation deal from St. Louis and the Raiders returned to Oakland. The city is the second-largest market in the United States, and the NFL has vowed Los Angeles won't be without a team for long.
Baltimore, abandoned by the Colts for Indianapolis, remains a strong contender for relocation because of state lottery-backed funding to build a $200-million stadium if a team comes. Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos intended to use that financing when he bid against Glazer to buy the Bucs and move them to Baltimore.
On Wednesday, John Moag, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, declined to say whether he has had discussions with the Glazers. But he did acknowledge hearing reports of poor fan support from Tampa Bay.
"I hear there's grave concern over the seat-deposit campaign they're having down there," Moag said. "If I was a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, I'd be writing a check right now for a seat deposit."
_ Times staff writers Rick Stroud and Richard Danielson contributed to this report.
Cities in waiting
If the Bucs are unable to get financing for a new stadium in Tampa, there are several cities that appear willing to build a new home for an NFL team. Here is a lineup of the potential suitors (with TV market population and ranking; for comparison, the Tampa Bay area has 3,338,100 people in the market area and is the 15th-largest TV market in the country):
Orlando and Orange County have earmarked an additional cent tourist development tax to build a $150-million ballpark, but it is part of an exclusive agreement with would-be baseball owner Norton Herrick to move a Major League Baseball team there before March '97.
Herrick offered to release the city from his baseball agreement in exchange for Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer selling half of the $192-million franchise to him. But Glazer has rejected that proposal and offered Herrick $1 million walk away from the baseball deal.
The Glazers have had their eye on Orlando since they purchased the Bucs from the Hugh Culverhouse Trust last November. Written into the agreement was a provision that the Glazers could relocate the team to Orlando for "substantially less" than the $35 million enhancement payment that would be made to the the trust for relocating the team.
Until a new stadium is built in Orlando, the Bucs could begin play in the 70,349-seat Florida Citrus Bowl.
Market area population: 2,528,500
TV market: 22nd.
Baltimore's 10-year campaign to rejoin the NFL since losing the Colts to Indianapolis is entering the fourth quarter. But the state of Maryland has $200 million in lottery-back bonds to finance a new stadium if the Bucs or another NFL team agree to relocate to Baltimore. Gov. Parris N. Glendening has vowed to dismantle the funding by Jan. 1, coincidentally the same deadline the Glazers have given for local officials to have financing in place for a new stadium in Tampa Bay.
John Moag, of the new Maryland Stadium Authority, would not comment on whether his group has had discussions with the Glazers about relocating to Baltimore. But Moag said he was aware that there is "grave concern over the seat deposit program."
The Glazers are not strangers to Baltimore's effort to land an NFL franchise. They were among three ownership groups that failed to land an expansion franchise for that city before purchasing the Bucs.
Market area population: 2,661,300.
TV market: 23rd.
The nation's No. 2 television market has been without an NFL franchise since the Rams moved to St.Louis and the Raiders relocated to Oakland this season.
The Rams agreed to pay a $29-million relocation fee and $17-million of revenues from Personal Seat Licenses to the league for moving to St. Louis. The NFL is suing the Raiders to collect a relocation fee from renegade owner Al Davis.
The NFL is not racing to return a team to Los Angeles. In fact, the league's owners passed a resolution that commissioner Paul Tagliabue would oversee any effort to establish another team in Los Angeles - whether through relocation or expansion.
The sticking point with moving to L.A. is finding a place for a team to play. The Los Angeles Coliseum is inadequate as a permanent facility and surrounding municipalities like Anaheim have no resources to finance a new stadium. As a result, the NFL has offered to underwrite costs for a new stadium in Los Angeles - in part by making it a site for future Super Bowls.
Market area population: 15,357,200.
TV market: 2nd.
Text by RICK STROUD, Times staff writer