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Houston Bidder Pledges Sellouts

Houston businessman Bob McNair has guaranteed sellouts at every home game for five years should he get an NFL expansion football team, a pledge that would prevent local television blackouts.

NFL officials, preparing to gather in Phoenix on Sunday for a meeting to decide their next expansion team, declined comment.

McNair's audacious promise, reported by Houston television station KRIV late Friday and the Houston Chronicle in Saturday editions, is aimed at gaining an upper hand over Los Angeles, which has more than a 3-1 edge in the number of TV households.

McNair said he would devise a system to give to charity any tickets not sold by the deadline for a blackout. NFL rules dictate that if a game is not a sellout 72 hours before kickoff, it is not televised within 75 miles.

However, network officials have said they would prefer that the NFL be in a town that can guarantee sellouts.

"I'm that confident we will succeed," McNair said. "We're telling television that you're not going to suffer blackouts in Houston. That should be a big challenge to Los Angeles."

Two groups in Los Angeles are competing for a team. Hollywood dealmaker Michael Ovitz wants to build a new stadium in suburban Carson atop a waste dump. Real estate developer Ed Roski and billionaire Eli Broad want to remodel the L.A. Coliseum.

McNair has been stepping up his challenges to Los Angeles television market.

"You hear a lot of talk about the fact that Houston is the 11th-rated media market and Los Angeles is the second-rated market," McNair told KRIV. "That's very superficial. That doesn't tell the whole story."

Earlier this week, he distributed a report to team owners showing that while Los Angeles has a larger base of viewers who watch NFL games, having a home team in that city does not produce a large gain over having a new team in Houston.

Using network records for the 1993 and 1994 seasons, the incremental gain of a Los Angeles Raiders game was only about 28,000 more than the incremental gain of a Houston Oilers' game.

Texas senators are pressuring NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.>
Texas senators are pressuring NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. (AP)

Both cities lost their NFL franchises in 1995, with Los Angeles also losing the Rams.

Meanwhile, Texas' two U.S. senators and the region's seven House members have sent NFL Comissioner Paul Tagliabue a letter asking that he hold to his word.

Almost three years ago, Tagliabue stood in Houston's City Hall and said the city would likely get another football team if it put together a state-of-the-art stadium deal.

On Wednesday, the group - led by Republican Sens. Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison - implored the league to give Houston the 32nd franchise over Los Angeles.

The letter reminded Tagliabue of his comments May 29, 1996, after meeting with Gramm, then-Mayor Bob Lanier, Harris County Judge Robert Eckels and others in wake of the Oilers' departure for Tennessee.

The letter said Houston's proposed $310 million, retractable-roof stadium "meets all the requirements set by you."

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