Jacks boss wants more fans, or else Threatens to move or fold after '93-94

February 20, 1993|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

Skipjacks owner Tom Ebright said it once again, although probably not for the last time:

One last chance, Baltimore. If home attendance doesn't rise about 30,000 to at least 180,000 next season, the Skipjacks will "cease operations" or move to another city.

Ebright issued the ultimatum yesterday while confirming that the Skipjacks and parent Washington Capitals have reached a tentative working agreement for the 1993-94 season. It will be their sixth season together.

"David is tired of having the organization's young players performing before crowds of only 2,000 or 3,000," Ebright said, referring to Capitals general manager David Poile. "And I'm tired of writing checks for a half million dollars to cover our losses."

The Skipjacks are averaging 3,000 fans, but Ebright expects the figure to climb, as it has in past years, to 3,600 by season's end. But he estimates that the team needs to draw 180,000, a 4,500 average for 40 games, to be self-sustaining.

"It's that small margin between where we are now and success that keeps me going," Ebright said. "We only have to sell another 900 or so tickets a game."

"Our losses have been as low as $350,000 and as high as $600,000. I'm writing checks for $400,000 or $500,000 every year and I'm getting tired of it. I get letters begging me to go somewhere else with the team."

The Capitals also are disturbed by the Skipjacks' low attendance.

"It's psychologically harmful more than anything," Poile said. "An ego thing. It's motivating to play before big crowds.

"Another thing: More and more of our players are becoming entrenched in this area year-round. We're trying to sell hockey in the whole area, AHL as well as NHL. We forever need to stimulate new fans and turn them on to hockey."

With aggressive promotion and advertising, Skipjacks attendance rose from a low of 100,962 in 1987-88 -- their last year as a Pittsburgh Penguins affiliate -- to a high of 156,321 in 1989-90.

"This level of community support still isn't sufficient to allow the sport to be self-sufficient here," Ebright said. "We need an attendance level of 180,000 to 200,000."

Ebright is trying to create "an adoption and support program that is broad-based." He is seeking the aid of Mayor Kurt Schmoke and other political leaders and the business community.

Ebright met with Schmoke for a half-hour yesterday evening. "The meeting was super," Ebright said. "The mayor was open, receptive and interested. He realizes the city has a vested interest in the building and everything in here being successful.

The only matter to be resolved with the Capitals before the one-year contract extension is signed is how the advertising space on the Baltimore Arena's signs is split with the Spirit. "It's not a problem," Ebright said. "We're resolving that now."

Skipjacks attendance

Year .. .. .. .. Tot. .. .. Avg. .. .. .. Rnk.

1982-83 .. .. 108,826 .. .. 2,721 .. .. .. 11

1983-84 .. .. 144,204 .. .. 3,605 .. .. .. .7

1984-85 .. .. 135,393 .. .. 3,385 .. .. .. .7

1985-86 .. .. 116,343 .. .. 2,909 .. .. .. .9

1986-87 .. .. 135,250 .. .. 3,381 .. .. .. .7

1987-88 .. .. 100,962 .. .. 2,524 .. .. .. 11

1988-89 .. .. 152,143 .. .. 3,804 .. .. .. .7

1989-90 .. .. 156,321 .. .. 3,908 .. .. .. .8

1990-91 .. .. 145,218 .. .. 3,630 .. .. .. .9

1991-92 .. .. 154,655 .. .. 3,866 .. .. .. .7

1992-93* .. .. 82,817 .. . .2,957 .. .. .. 11

*-Before last night's game

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.