22,500 per game would send Speros across goal line

February 08, 1994|By John Steadman

Apart from all the dreams and ambitions, establishing a Canadian Football League team in Baltimore is a $7 million venture for Jim Speros. It breaks down to $3 million as cost of the franchise, a one-time payment, and the other $4 million budgeted for operating expenses is to come from ticket sales.

During an interview addressing financial matters, Speros said it will take an average crowd of 22,500 for his team to generate enough income to break even at Memorial Stadium. Right there, bottom line, is the key to success or failure.

Individual tickets will vary from $9 to $28. On a season book basis, the cheapest seats for a 10-game schedule will be a minimum of $90, quite affordable, to a top scale of $280 in the mezzanine, plus a fee of around $800 (half of what some NFL teams charge) for such conveniences as parking, television viewing and seat-side food and drink service.

Speros has two limited partners, a pair of former NFL players, Tom Matte and Irv Cross. They each have received from Speros what is believed to be a 2 percent interest in the club. Matte will be a paid employee but Cross will serve exclusively in a consulting role.

There will be two substantial investors joining Speros once the city of Baltimore offers a lease for use of the stadium. "After the deal is signed, we'll announce their names," he said. The stadium offices, which are in excellent condition after being built for the Orioles, will be used by Speros if plans fall into place.

As for the stadium itself, extensive repair and remodeling are necessary. This will cost, according to Speros' projection, $3 million.

"We think the money will come from the state," he explained. "The governor says he wants to make sure everything is done in a first-class manner. He wants it to be safe and the facility updated for the public. His interest has encouraged us."

There are other interesting fiscal matters involved in the Speros effort. The CFL has a payroll salary cap of $2.5 million, which breaks down to an average of $60,000 to $90,000 per player. This includes a five-man coaching staff with two part-time aides.

However, what is designated as one marquee, or "name," player doesn't come under the salary cap. His pay generally ranges between $500,000 to $1 million. The new coach, Don Matthews, also carries the title of director of football operations, which means Speros is free to pay him whatever terms they have agreed upon.

Speros has put up $100,000 with the CFL and hasn't applied for any loans. He says, though, he wants to establish a line of credit and may work with NationsBank.

Each Canadian team carries 37 players on its regular game roster, plus 10 more on its development squad. Training camp for the Baltimore team, since it's an expansion club, will be four weeks, double that of the established CFL members. This is more than adequate.

Western Maryland College in Westminster, a glorious setting, is a possible location for the preseason camp but Speros says he's also looking at other places. Plans still need to be finalized with Mayor Kurt Schmoke and the city regarding a lease before he gets that far along.

If the CFL takes in Baltimore and the franchise is a success Speros has a dream of an idea. He would like for Baltimore to host a Grey Cup game, the CFL championship, in 1996. Two great cities in North America, Vancouver in 1994, and Toronto in 1995, already have been selected for future Grey Cup host sites.

"I believe we'll be in position to bid on it," added Speros. "It's a week-long series of events, kind of like the Super Bowl. Last year it added $50 million to the economy of Calgary, which hosted the Grey Cup. I was there with my wife to see the game and it was spectacular."

What would it take to get the Grey Cup, the first one played outside of Canada in over 80 years? "A commitment on buying tickets," he answered.

Speros, on another issue, says the fans have overwhelmingly endorsed the proposal to call the team the Baltimore Colts.

With over 20,000 season tickets already applied for, with cash payments due later, there's every indication Canadian football will be accepted in Baltimore. The targeted crowd figure of 22,500 -- which will get Speros to the break-even mark -- seems reasonable enough. If the sport catches on the average attendance could be twice that figure.

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