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The Wrong One, Baby
If Shaquille O'Neal intends to take Michael Jordan's place as the globe's foremost human billboard, he's off to a great start. Just like Mike, Shaq is so big that his off-court business contracts sometimes take precedence over basketball, which, if memory serves, is the reason that he's getting all the big-money deals.
O'Neal was not among the 10 NBA stars named last week to the U.S. team for next fall's world championships in Toronto. That's because Pepsi, one of the companies for which Shaq is a million-dollar pitchman, said "unh-unh" to Shaq's participation. The conflict is similar to the one that pitted Jordan and Nike against USA Basketball last year: To wit, the company objects to its man signing a contract that may call for him to endorse, tacitly or otherwise, a competitor's product.
In Shaq's case, USA Basketball, the agency that oversees American participation in international competition, has a deal with McDonald's, which has an exclusive contract with Coca-Cola. "We're not going to be a pawn for the NBA's promotional partners," says Pepsi.
O.K., so Pepsi's point is valid, as was Nike's last year when it objected to Jordan—and other Nike-paid Dream Team members—wearing Reebok sweatsuits during the Olympic medal ceremony. (That flap was resolved when Jordan draped an American flag over his shoulder to hide the Reebok logo.) But what corporate America should realize is that it can't win these battles. The public doesn't care about corporations' exclusive contracts with athletes. The public wants to see Shaq in a USA uniform, and if it perceives that Pepsi is the stumbling block, then Pepsi will pay the p.r. price.
The Final Five
Next week the 28 NFL owners will meet in Chicago to select the two cities from among Baltimore, Charlotte, Jacksonville, Memphis and St. Louis that will be awarded expansion franchises to begin play in 1995. The owners will base their decision on such factors as size of TV market, status of stadium, civic commitment, advance ticket sales and the financial wherewithal of the prospective buyers. Keeping those factors in mind, and taking into account the final pitches made two weeks ago by the wannabe owners to commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the league's expansion and finance committees, here are the five hopefuls, from the most likely to gain a franchise to the least likely:
•Baltimore (Bombers or Cobras). Pluses: Former home of the Colts is a sentimental favorite. Has two finance groups bidding, the richer headed by Florida billionaire Malcolm Glazer, who by himself can write a check to cover the cost of an NFL franchise. A state-funded 70,000-seat stadium is waiting to be built next door to Camden Yards. Minus: With the Washington Redskins next door, how will they draw?
•Charlotte (Panthers). Pluses: Lead money man is former Baltimore Colt Jerry Richardson, now head of Flagstar Companies, a food-service firm, formerly known as TW Services, that took in $3.7 billion in 1992. Racism charges against the company's Denny's restaurant chain have faded. Carolina region considered hot market with vast potential TV audience. Minus: Debt on construction of privately funded $160 million, 72,300-seat stadium.
•Memphis (Hound Dogs). Pluses: Richest partnership ever to bid for a pro sports franchise includes cotton baron William B. Dunavant Jr. and Wall Street heavyweight Paul Tudor Jones II—not to mention Elvis, or at least the King's estate. which is worth $100 million. Have already collected deposits for 8,450 premium seats, even though stadium plans call for only 8,302. Minuses: Aging Liberty Bowl badly needs proposed $60 million renovation and expansion from 63,000 to 68,000 seats. Memphis generates little big league excitement around the NFL.