Spirit signs 4-year Arena lease

March 31, 1994|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Writer

Indicating it plans to stay awhile, the Spirit has signed a four-year Baltimore Arena lease stretching through the 1997-98 season.

"We are the Arena's prime tenant," Spirit owner Bill Stealey said in making the announcement yesterday. "We have locked up 17 or 18 Friday or Saturday dates a season for four years."

Stealey also disclosed a plan to build, at his expense, two sky suites on the Arena's fifth floor. The suites, which will accommodate as many as 20 people apiece, are scheduled for completion early next season. Stealey will have the use of the suites for all Arena events, not just soccer.

No Baltimore indoor soccer team has reached such a lengthy agreement with the Arena, which has played host to the sport since 1980.

The lease agreement was spurred by a 14-percent increase in attendance this season to 6,358 a game, a 63-percent increase in corporate sponsorship sales and a successful off-season summer soccer camp program. The Spirit ranks sixth in the 12-team NPSL in average attendance.

The 63-percent jump in corporate dollars was provided by six major sponsors, all of which are negotiating for next season, including one, Citgo/Carroll Independent Fuel, that has committed.

In his two seasons as Spirit owner, Stealey said, he has lost a total of less than $1 million. That includes first-season costs such as team purchase price, logo, name change and advertising.

"We reduced our losses by 50 percent this season," Stealey said. "Next year, we plan to break even. We sold 1,800 season tickets this season. We're going for 3,000 by October."

The Spirit also announced the signing of goalie Cris Vaccaro to a two-year contract, with the additional responsibility of coaching the club's young goalies, such as Shawn Boehmcke.

"I've still got a few years left in me as a player," said Vaccaro, 35. "I'd like to think I have 10 more."

Vaccaro, who left Tuesday night's overtime win over the Buffalo Blizzard in the second period after being struck on the nose, will not play in the final regular-season games against the Harrisburg Heat, tomorrow at the Arena and Saturday on the road. Even before his nose injury, that was the plan, to give him a respite before the playoffs start next week.

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