When Baltimore Blast leading scorer Billy Ronson spoke out )) 10 days ago about the small crowds at the Baltimore Arena, it again led to speculation over where all the fans have gone.
Attendance this season is down to an average of 6,348 through the team's first nine home Major Soccer League games, compared with a final season average of 8,550 last year. In the 1983-84 season, when Baltimore won its only championship, the team averaged 11,188, which still stands as a record for the franchise.
Some have blamed the poor economy for the falloff in Blast attendance, and others have said it is because the team isn't in VTC first place. Baltimore general manager John Borozzi said this is the first time "I haven't been able to put my finger on a reason."
But coach Kenny Cooper said he knows where the fans have gone.
"Some are going to the theater and arts, and others are staying home and watching all the sports they want on cable or satellite dishes," said Cooper. "It's the trend now. With all the sports on cable TV, fans can stay home for weeks and not go out, except to the grocery store. Back when we were drawing all those large crowds, it was the disco era and yuppie era. The Baltimore Arena for Blast games was the place to be seen."
Cooper also said: "There were a lot of people in the stands with coats and ties on, and we had limousines parked outside waiting for senators from Washington. I think we could have drawn 40,000 fans for those two championship-series games against San Diego in 1983 if we had set up the indoor floor at Memorial Stadium. I wanted to do it, but Edward Bennett Williams [then the Baltimore Orioles' owner] didn't want it and neither did Hank Peters [then the Orioles' general manager]. I guess you couldn't blame them because it might have torn up the field [the games were played in late May]."
Cooper said he believes it is up to the Blast to find a way to bring people back to games instead of making excuses.
"I think Baltimore is potentially a good sports city," said Cooper. "If you look at other cities like Philadelphia and Dallas, they have new facilities like Veterans Stadium and Reunion Arena that have helped attendance. Ed Hale [Blast owner] has some plans, and I think it will help us."
Hale has put his plans to build a 22,000 seat multipurpose arena at the Timonium Race Course on hold until a decision is made on what kind of stadium will be built if Baltimore gets an expansion team in the National Football League. If that stadium is domed, Hale would like the Blast to play its games in a specially constructed arena in the stadium.
Former Blast midfielder Kai Haaskivi appears to be in hot water again in his attempt to produce a winner as a player-coach for the Cleveland Crunch.
After the Crunch lost to the Tacoma Stars, 8-2, last week even though injured Tacoma goalkeeper Cris Vaccaro played only two minutes before forward Mark Karpun made his debut in the net, Haaskivi was called on the carpet by Crunch owners George Hoffman and Stuart Lichter and general manager Al Miller.
Haaskivi was asked by the owners and Miller, "Why is this team so bad?"
It is thought that Crunch midfielder Mike Sweeney, also a former Blast midfielder and a friend of Haaskivi's, told Miller that Haaskivi is the "problem."
A few years ago, Sweeney blasted Cooper before Sweeney played for the Blast, and didn't really change his feelings after one year in Baltimore. Sweeney has often criticized Cooper for "using the media to intimidate the officials and other players."
Hale said that Cleveland approached the Blast about a possible trade that would send Sweeney to Baltimore again.
"I said 'no thanks,' " said Hale. "We think we can win the championship with the players we have. We aren't interested in Mike Sweeney."
Former Baltimore County Executive Dennis Rasmussen has found one bright spot about losing the recent election to Roger Hayden.
"Now I can see more Blast games," said Rasmussen. "I think Ed Hale likes it too, because I am a bit of a good-luck charm. They almost always win when I come to the games."
The elementary-school girls from St. Clare's School in Essex who sang on "Good Morning America" Dec. 10 will be singing at the Baltimore Arena on Thursday night before the 7:35 game against the Kansas City Comets.
They will sing the national anthem and "Santa Can You Bring My Daddy Home" at 7:20 p.m. The song was written for St. Clare's student Lindsey Zulauf, whose father, Chip, is on a hospital ship in the Persian Gulf.
In conjunction with the appearance, all military personnel and students with proper identification can purchase $10 tickets for $2 Thursday.