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Who Put This Pigskin In The Pork Barrel?

There's nothing like the smell of pigskin to make Arizona politicos jump.
State and city officials jumped through hoops for years as various NFL teams teased the Valley with the possibility of professional football. Nor were they deterred when teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and the Indianapolis Colts used the possibility of a move to Phoenix to extract expensive concessions from the hometown crowd.

Their persistence paid off when Bill Bidwill finally brought his Cardinals here from St. Louis after folks there weren't properly appreciative of him.

Now Bidwill has managed to get the NFL to float out the possibility of--be still, my beating heart--a Super Bowl in the Valley. And although he's not saying so outright, the team owner clearly hopes to parlay Super Bowl fever into a new domed stadium for him, with taxpayers footing the bill.

But while the Cards' owner still can make legislators dance to his tune, he may be in for a rude surprise when he tries to get the Phoenix City Council to sing along.

Little progress has been made toward construction of a domed stadium in Phoenix since the council approved a "concept" last year to build a facility near Seventh Avenue and Jefferson Street. All of a sudden Bidwill announces the possibility of a Super Bowl. And NFL officials let it be known that, while a domed stadium isn't a must, it sure would enhance the Valley's chances of besting San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles in the competition for the 1993 event.

Officially, Bidwill is noncommittal about a downtown Phoenix dome. He says he's willing to consider foregoing the financially beneficial arrangement he has with Arizona State University to play at Sun Devil Stadium as long as it doesn't cost him anything. But his attempt to play the reluctant bride doesn't work.

James H. Steeg is director of special events for the NFL, making it his job to tell would-be Super Bowl sites what the league expects. He says the question of a domed stadium "is something the [team] owners are going to have to address" in deciding whether Phoenix gets the nod. And why should the owners care? "It's a concern of Mr. Bidwill's," Steeg explains. "And if it's a concern of Mr. Bidwill's, it's a concern of ours."

In other words, the owners who make up the NFL are going to do what they can to help one of their own get what he wants from Phoenix.

Bidwill's professed non-concern for a domed stadium also is shown for the farce it is by his presence in the past few weeks in the halls of the Arizona State Legislature.

For the past four years, efforts to restrict the resale of tickets for sporting events have gone nowhere as legislators balked, rallying 'round the banner of free enterprise. That was before Steeg sent a letter to state officials saying that having an anti-scalping law on the state's books "will play a strong part in our evaluation of Super Bowl sites."

The NFL hint was enough to get the attention of Bill Shover, the PR chief for the R&G, who heads the city's efforts to land a Super Bowl here. Shover and Bidwill immediately began blitzing the legislators, urging them to put aside their philosophical problems with an anti-scalping law for the sake of landing the '93 Super Bowl.

Lawmakers were more than eager to jump on the Super Bowl bandwagon. Senate president Bob Usdane persuaded lobbyist Charlie Stevens to donate his time to craft a bill. And Stevens, who makes a living out of understanding what's politically possible, came up with a measure he thinks will satisfy the NFL but is diluted enough to get the necessary votes. It makes scalping illegal but has enough exceptions in it to fly the team plane through.

For example, the law would still allow a broker to buy up blocks of tickets for an event and sell them at whatever the traffic would bear. It allows travel agencies to do the same. It permits Dillard's and other ticket outlets to impose a surcharge on tickets they sell. And it even allows individuals who find they can't use their tickets to stand in front of the stadium on game day and sell their tickets to the highest bidder.

So what's left? The only thing outlawed would be someone buying up tickets not for personal use and selling them for a profit within 200 feet of the box office. At 201 feet, however, the practice still would be legal.

Even as a do-nothing bill, it drew some opposition last week before gaining Senate approval. "Ticket scalping is the American way," crowed Republican Wayne Stump. "Buy low, sell high."

But the Senate acquiesced and Bidwill got what he wanted. You see, if there's no anti-scalping law, there's no Super Bowl. And if there's no hope for a Super Bowl, Bidwill and his fellow NFL owners won't have anything to hold over the head of Phoenix officials to get a domed stadium.

And Bidwill isn't interested in bringing a Super Bowl to the Valley just for the sake of football: If the event winds up at Sun Devil Stadium he doesn't get a penny of the proceeds.

The NFL's Steeg already is dropping hints that the ASU stadium isn't suitable for pro football's national championship. "We need more room in the press box," he says, "and there isn't enough sideline space for half-time activities." The league also has hinted that it wants other amenities, such as a restaurant.

It appears that ASU officials also have caught Super Bowl fever.
Insufficient sideline space? Stadium Manager Tom Sadler says the university already is looking at excavating the field, lowering it so the first five rows will have unobstructed views. He says those changes may allow ASU to reconfigure the field to provide the sideline space the league wants.

A restaurant? Sadler says he's exploring making the loge section into a club area.

Sacrifice a virgin before the game? No doubt if the NFL wanted it, the university would attempt to oblige, though there's some question whether they'd be able to find one on campus.

And Sadler says the university wouldn't even be looking to make money on the deal but would simply try to break even. "It means so much to the Phoenix community you try to make it attractive" for the NFL, he says. That attitude could put Bidwill at odds with his ASU landlords as he angles for his treasured downtown domed stadium. But the university may be the least of Bidwill's problems.

The Phoenix City Council, chastened by wholesale voter revolt over some other would-be boondoggles, isn't as easily persuaded. Consider: Senator Leo Corbet voted for the anti-scalping law based on promises that a Super Bowl could bring more than $100 million in business to the Valley. "As bad as things are around here it looks like we'd all want to be jumping on the bandwagon and grasp at any straw available," he says.

But Phoenix Mayor Terry Goddard, who has lunged at enough straws to stuff a mattress, is keeping his hands to himself on this one. Goddard, who will be seeking re-election this fall, says he thinks voters should have their say on a domed stadium if any public funds are involved. "It's going to need that kind of support if it's going to be successful," he says.

Nor is the mayor alone. "Tax monies have already built a stadium, and it's only eight miles away," says Councilmember Linda Nadolski. "So it's in Tempe! It's an imaginary line drawn on a map."

Her colleague Howard Adams says the city should encourage private sources to build a stadium. And if public funds are going to be used, "you almost have to put it on the ballot." But that still doesn't address the basic question: "Where's the money going to come from?" Adams asks. "I cautioned against using everything for the Suns arena," pointing out that the council voted to increase taxes on hotel rooms and rental cars to fund the city's share of that facility.

Bidwill's hopes for his own stadium probably were boosted when the council approved that deal with Jerry Colangelo for a jointly financed arena with the Suns sharing in the profits of a city-owned facility. But the council isn't likely to provide the same kind of deal to Bidwill, even if there is another source of revenues to tap. "The Suns were doing well and riding high," notes Councilmember Duane Pell. "It became a much easier political decision."

The timing on the Suns arena vote was peachy. But a vote on a domed stadium might not occur until the fall. Pell says: "I just don't know if it comes right in the middle of an election if it's going to be accepted."

Bidwill's attempt to play the reluctant bride doesn't work.

Goddard, who has lunged at enough straws to stuff a mattress, is keeping his hands to himself on this one.

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Howard Fischer