Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth said today that he considered Washington's season-ticket selling drive "impressive."
Of former commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who is part of a potential Washington ownership syndicate with developers Oliver Carr and James Clark, Ueberroth was enthusiastic, saying, "Wherever he is, whatever group he's in, it's a positive force (for that group) . . .
"I think it's impressive," said Ueberroth of the D.C. Baseball Commission's ability to get fans to deposit more than $5.6 million in escrow accounts for more than 10,000 season tickets. "That's very definitely a positive factor."
Ueberroth also believes that baseball owners have gotten behind his list of expansion guidelines. "Their reaction has been good," Ueberroth said today in a luncheon with Washington Post reporters. "The criteria are working.
"It used to be the only thing the owners noticed was who was their friend . . . Now 26 owners in this meeting really concentrate on 'Did you know this (about a particular city) and did you know that?' . . . I think there'll be a weeding-out process (among prospective expansion cities) now."
Among the major criteria set forth Oct. 7 by Ueberroth for potential expansion cities are ownership (with significant community identification), management (with baseball experience), stadium (if leased, baseball use should have priority), state and local government (long-term commitment) and favorable demographics.
Expansion is to be the topic of a baseball meeting Nov. 6-7 in New York. Ueberroth's guidelines, which basically have been well received by potential Washington buyers (since they seem compatible with local interests) have caused consternation in some other potential expansion towns.
"There are some who really detest it. That's interesting," said Ueberroth. "They don't want to have anything to do with the criteria. They want to come and have a slide show (in New York) or bring politicians. We keep saying that's not the way to do it."
Prodded about what issues may cause Washington difficulty, Ueberroth said, "The things that I hear people saying are, 'It didn't work twice, why would it work now?' . . . And that there's another franchise (Baltimore) in the near proximity."
As far as renovations to RFK Stadium are concerned, Ueberroth said, "Our leaning, I'm just asking the question, is 'Can they dress it up Fenway or Wrigley Field intimate?' Look at this World Series. These two stadiums (in Kansas City and St. Louis) are nice places to go. The people like to go there because they're very clean, well run." Busch Stadium in St. Louis is, structurally, almost identical to RFK Stadium, but is in considerably better condition.
Ueberroth touched on other issues, especially TV ratings in the postseason. Although figures are incomplete, it appears ratings are down about 15 or 16 percent for both compared to 1984.
"Under the current situation, the ratings baseball is getting is below what they (the television networks) are paying," said the commissioner, now in his 13th month in office. "I'm concerned. I don't know all the factors . . . It could be the (midwestern) teams that are in it . . . The problems and disruptions we've had this year (a one-day strike and a drug trial) . . . or the parents who won't let their kids stay up (for the first all-prime time World Series)."
Some have contended that the switch from five- to seven-game playoffs has diluted interest, but Ueberroth said, "I would say what feedback I've gotten is that (fans) like seven games better than five. Obviously, the people in Toronto wouldn't. The people in Kansas City would." (Toronto held a 3-1 playoff lead before losing, 4-3.)
When Ueberroth came into office, he staunchly opposed relocation of existing franchises. He said he's "done a 180" on that and now, in one case -- the San Francisco Giants -- he has encouraged the team to seek any solution that seems best to the club. Franchises in Pittsburgh, Oakland, Seattle and Cleveland also have had serious problems.
Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Redskins, has expressed interest in buying the Giants and moving them from San Francisco to Washington. That possibility still exists.
"In some cases the city government is really pushing the team out of the city," said Ueberroth. " . . . In those cities, the commissioner is about all that stands in the way of a move . . . Relocation becomes a possibility. Politics is . . . unfortunately a big part of the quotient. Look at the cities where there is talk of relocation, there are almost always political problems."
Ueberroth says revenue imbalance is a contributing problem to franchise instability. "Some teams take in $9 million from every source, others $50 million . . . Everything I'm doing is to change that . . . We can't go to (NFL style) revenue-sharing in baseball . . . The roots are so deep against revenue-sharing . . . "
To some extent, expansion would help the revenue imbalance, Ueberroth said, with the multimillion-dollar entrance fees paid by new clubs equally divided among old franchises.