We should not, of course, hold our breath until it happens. But Jack Kent Cooke's revelation about the proposed creation of a domed stadium between Washington and Baltimore -- "I am thinking about it," he said, declining to elaborate -- is worth an inquiring phone call or three to fellows who might shed more light.
Such a stadium, seating maybe 74,000 people, would be part of a Meadowlands-like complex, sources say. The financially troubled Laurel Race Course reportedly would be included, along with Cooke's Redskins, the Baltimore Colts and the Orioles.
Cooke is on record saying he will honor the Redskins' lease at RFK Stadium running through 1990. It's unknown if he could buy out the lease; chances are he could. If planning went forward today, it might take three years to build a $125 million domed stadium. By then, Cooke could wiggle out of Houdini's straightjacket, let alone a District of Columbia lease.
Remember, the first thing Cooke did after settling a divorce for $43 million was buy the Chrysler Building for $82 million. This man gets things done, and if he wanted to embark on a grand enterprise to leave a legacy for his son and grandsons in this emerging megalopolis of Baltimore-Washington -- if he wanted to build a stadium fit for the expanding future of sports -- he could make it happen.
It would be a very good thing.
RFK is among the smallest, most austere stadiums in America. Its 55,000 seats barely meet the NFL minimum requirement. All of the reasons Al Davis wants out of Oakland -- small stadium, no luxury boxes, no way to increase income to stay competitive -- also obtain with the Redskins.
Romantics might weep at the thought of the city without a football team. Who could bring themselves to root for the Laurel Redskins? Reality demands a nod to economics, however, and the financial future of sports is tied to multipurpose stadiums built to give the most customers the greatest access. Anyway, it's still the Dallas Cowboys, not the Irving Cowboys, even if Texas Stadium is farther from downtown Dallas than this fantasy of Cooke's would be from downtown Washington.
Reality also demands, by the way, that we listen to the idea that Cooke doesn't want a new stadium. Maybe, it is suggested darkly, Cooke is using the threat of a stadium to force D.C. to give him a better lease at RFK.
"I don't want to be quoted by name," a city official said yesterday, "because I don't want to challenge Mr. Cooke. The last time anybody challenged him on a contract negotiation was in Los Angeles -- and he responded by building the Forum.
"But I think he's floating this idea of building a stadium just as a negotiating ploy with the city. He wants a better lease at RFK. That's all he wants, and he's driving a hard bargain about it."
Another man familiar with Cooke's negotiations said the talk of building a domed stadium is balderdash.
"Cooke is 'thinking about it' the same way I'm thinking of walking across the Atlantic," he said.
Cooke reportedly asked the city last summer to extend the RFK lease at terms that would cut the city's estimated take of $800,000 to less than one-third that figure.
The Redskins already have a 3 percent break in rent at RFK. The NFL permits each team to keep 15 per cent of the gross ticket revenue to cover stadium rental. Of that 15 per cent, the Redskins pay only 12 percent to RFK.
If the average ticket for a Redskin game is $15, with 55,000 sold each week the season's gross revenue would be $6,600,000. According to the NFL's 15 percent standard, the Redskins skim off $990,000 of that to cover rent. But they pay RFK only 12 percent, which is $792,000.
That 3 per cent difference is $198,000 a season.
Small change for a guy who owns the Chrysler Building, for sure, but you don't buy the Chrysler Building without saving up your pennies. It is Cooke's dedication to thrift that leads some people to think he would use a pie-in-the-sky stadium as a lever to extract even more favorable rental terms at RFK.
I don't think so. Cooke dreams big dreams. When he left his native Canada after building a fortune in broadcasting and publishing, he made his mark quickly in Los Angeles by creating TelePrompTer Inc., a cable television company that he recently agreed to merge with Westinghouse for a reported $100 million. To have some fun in L.A., Cooke bought a basketball team, the Lakers.
Angry over rental terms in a downtown arena, Cooke said that if the city didn't come around, he'd build his own place.
L.A. dared him.
The Forum rose shortly thereafter.
With the Lakers and with the hockey Kings that he brought in, Cooke made the Forum a successful enterprise that he lists among his most pleasant accomplishments.
If Cooke wants to build a domed stadium, he will. But he won't do it unless investigation shows it can succeed.
No one knows, for instance, if owner Edward Bennett Williams would move the Orioles out of the city, even if it were just down I-95. Right now he is so steadfastly committed to staying put that he has talked to Baltimore politicians about building a new stadium downtown.
Nor can anyone predict what Robert Irsay might do with the Colts. He often has talked of moving them to Jacksonville or Memphis or someplace. Certainly this dismal season, in which attendance properly has been terrible, will do nothing to make Irsay love the city more. You'd think Irsay would pack up the luggage and move to a domed stadium in a minute, but you'd also think he was smart enough not to call his team's plays from the press box.
Stay tuned, please, for this isn't over yet. There is word that RFK is sending missionaries to New York to talk about bringing back pro soccer. And with the baseball meetings in Florida this week, it shouldn't be long before we hear that the San Francisco Giants are dying to move to Washington.