Baltimore Blast owner Ed Hale said he wasn't surprised to hear the team's leading scorer, Billy Ronson, speak out for the first time yesterday about a lack of attendance at Blast games this season.
Hale said Ronson and all the Major Soccer League players are concerned about attendance because they will make more money next season if the eight teams in the league increase their gross revenue.
/# "Under the bargaining agreement
with the players last summer, there is a revenue-sharing plan," said Hale, who is chairman of the MSL Players' Relations committee. "The team salary cap [currently $650,000] will go up in proportion to the increase in gross revenue. That's why the players are working extra hard in making personal appearances and trying to sell the sport to the people in the community."
At a news conference yesterday where Ronson (10 goals, 19 assists in 15 games) was honored as the Blast's Most Valuable Player for the first quarter of the season, the veteran midfielder said: "The players talked this morning about small crowds. We're used to playing before 12,000 [which would be a near-sellout for the Baltimore Arena, which has a capacity of 12,506], and now we're getting 6,000 regularly. It makes you wonder where the other 5,000 or 6,000 people are. We can't keep going on without the fans."
Ronson also said: "People can't keep expecting us to go out and make all these public appearances, and then when we ask them if they've been to a game lately, they say, 'We'll come sometime.' It's a two-way street."
/# Ronson said he got up at 5 a.m.
Nov. 9 to give an interview in his apartment for Channel 13's "Breakfast with Marty Bass."
"We had a game that night against San Diego, but I did it," said Ronson. "You know no one likes to get up at 5 o'clock. And on Friday night [Nov. 30] before we left for Eng
land, four Blast players were playing Santa Claus down at Harborplace."
Ronson said the Blast players need a large crowd "when we're down in games. The fans can lift you and pump you up to play much better. The same is true for all sports."
When asked about the prospect of a higher salary cap next season motivating the players to promote the sport, Ronson said, "Sure it's important, but the most important thing is having the people in the stands to help you play better."
After nine home games this season, the Blast's attendance is averaging 6,348, compared with last season's final average of 8,550 for 26 games.
On Sunday, Baltimore drew 4,650 for the Western Division-leading Tacoma Stars. The night before, 6,051 had come for a game against the Wichita Wings.
The total of 10,701 for two games is less than the 1983-84 championship-season average of 11,188.
Hale said yesterday that he isn't panicking.
"Our advance sales for some of the January games are very good," said Hale. "I'm not knocking our fans at all. We're working very, very hard to get the attendance up, and we're
hoping things will get better."
Blast director of corporate sales and broadcasting Art Sinclair said yesterday that he foresees a possible sellout for a Saturday night game Jan. 26 against the six-time MSL champion San Diego Sockers.
Sinclair said it will be Blast/Miller Lite T-shirt night.
"The giveaway nights are what the people turn out for," said Sinclair. "They want to get something more than just the game for their money."
"I hope nobody crucifies Billy Ronson for what he said," said Hale. "He was speaking from the heart."
* NOTES: John Mangione will handle the commentary on the six Blast games that will be televised by Channel 45 this season. Mangione, who played soccer at Poly and the University of Del
aware, did the radio play-by-play for the Maryland Bays last summer. This is his first try at television. Sinclair will do the play-by-play. The six games: Dec. 26 at Kansas City, 8:35 p.m.; Jan. 19 vs. Tacoma, 3:05 p.m.; Feb. 10 vs. Kansas City, 2:05 p.m.; Feb. 23 at San Diego, 10:35 p.m.; March 16 vs. San Diego, 2:35 p.m.; March 27 at Kansas City, 8:35 p.m.
Mark Mettrick (strained groin muscle) and Tim Wittman (sprained left ankle) were the only Blast players to miss practice yesterday. According to trainer Marty McGinty, Mettrick will miss tomorrow night's game in Kansas City, Mo., and Saturday night's game in Tacoma, Wash., before returning. Mettrick has already been out for four games. Bruce Savage (sprained left ankle), Domenic Mobilio (hyperextended right shoulder), Dale Mitchell (sprained left ankle) and Hank Henry (sprained right ankle) practiced yesterday.