Thursday, May 27, 2004

NORFOLK (AP) — The team trying to bring the Montreal Expos to Norfolk made a pitch to the public yesterday, asking people to show support by plunking down $100 deposits for season tickets.

Central to the campaign is a television ad featuring five mayors from the Hampton Roads coastal region wearing business attire and batting helmets as they swing bats, pound gloves and toss or catch balls.

“This team’s behind it. You should be, too,” a voiceover says, adding, “Get in the game.”

One of those mayors, Norfolk’s Paul D. Fraim, said more than 1,000 season-ticket guarantees were sold before the campaign officially began. The deposits are fully refundable.

In addition, about 40 companies and organizations, including Smithfield Foods and Bank of America, pledged $1,000 apiece to reserve luxury suites for a stadium that would be built downtown, officials said. Plans call for 35,000 to 38,000 seats and at least 60 luxury boxes.

More sales would show baseball officials that “the city of Norfolk, the Hampton Roads region and the commonwealth of Virginia are ready to play ball,” Fraim said at a press conference.

Baseball has been trying to relocate the Montreal Expos since the struggling franchise was purchased by the 29 other teams before the 2002 season.

Possible relocation candidates are Norfolk; Washington; Northern Virginia; Las Vegas; Monterrey, Mexico; San Juan; and Portland, Ore. The latest deadline for a decision is the All-Star break in July, and the season-ticket sale is expected to last until then.

Hampton Roads, with a population of more than 1.5million, is among the largest metropolitan areas lacking a major league sports franchise. In addition to Norfolk, the region includes Virginia Beach and several other cities and counties.

In recent years, efforts to bring an NHL expansion team to Norfolk and to relocate the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets to the area have failed.

“We are an untapped market,” said William Somerindyke Jr., co-founder of the Norfolk Baseball Co., which represents a group of unidentified investors trying to buy the Expos.

The season-ticket campaign also includes billboards and radio and print ads, with space largely being donated by local TV, radio and outdoor companies.

Ticket packages will cost $810 to $2,835 for 81 home games. The luxury suites would range from $75,000 to $125,000, depending on location and amenities.

Norfolk resident Chris Bartnik, 25, wandered over to the press conference on a break from his job at a store in the mall where the event was held. He said he would love to see the Expos move to Norfolk.

“There’s a lot of opportunity here,” said Bartnik, who was contemplating reserving season tickets. “The downside is the demographics of the area. Per-capita income is not as high as other areas. But it’s a matter of getting season tickets and boxes locked up.”

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