The good fortune of Speros and CFLs is striking

August 11, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

NEW YORK — There is one person in the United States of America who is excited about the baseball strike that approaches like a thunderhead, threatening to wash out an entire season.

One person in the country who is not sorry to see pitches traded in for pickets.

One person who sees the light in the impending darkness.

"Let me put it this way," Jim Speros was saying before last night's professional football game at Memorial Stadium, "they may be trying to take away the name of my team, but they can't take away the luck of that horseshoe."

A lucky horseshoe symbolized pro football in this town for decades.

Now, it symbolizes the run of good fortune that keeps blessing Speros and his nameless new Canadian Football League team.

First, he names his team the Colts and gets hauled into court by the NFL for trademark infringement, touching just the right nerve to sell thousands of tickets.

Now, here comes a sniveling, incredibly irritating baseball strike with the look of a shutout that could last months.

"I have to admit that I've woken up lately pretty amazed by the fact that we're not even 6 months old yet and getting ready to be the only game in town," Speros said.

The only game in Baltimore, in the summer of 1994.

Professional football.

And the Chesapeake Bay is pink, right?

But it's true, or about to be true, proving that old horseshoes never die, even if they up and move to Indianapolis in the middle of the night.

Talk about luck.

"A lot of things in life come down to timing," Speros said. "I couldn't have brought a CFL team to town three years ago, before the [NFL] expansion stuff created all the [anti-NFL] furor. And now a baseball strike. It's out of my control, obviously. But I would say, looking at it from the outside, it looks like it might be a long one. It's sad for the fans. But I'd be a fool to stand here and say it won't make a difference for us."

What, you were expecting him to clear his throat and say, "Well, of course, the strike is a sad day for all of sports and therefore a sad day for us"? Get serious.

Speros and his partners have a risky, multimillion-dollar investment going here, trying to sell a strange brand of football in summertime in the city of the baseball monster. They're minnows sharing a pool with a whale. And they're going to cry if the whale dies?

Already, Speros said, he has heard from businesses shopping suddenly untied sponsorship money; from groups admitting they'd originally planned dates at Camden Yards; and from ESPN, which is considering moving some games to its main channel from ESPN2, which would mean higher ratings.

Most importantly, if there is no baseball, Speros suddenly has the only place for the legion of jock-a-holics to go to satisfy their overwhelming urge to spectate.

"You're talking about thousands of fans accustomed to going to three Oriole games a week, suddenly without anyplace to go," Speros said. "We're going to try to entice some of them. We should be able to entice some of them. Then we need to work at keeping them."

It won't hurt that his product is an unpretentious team playing in a blue-collar league that stands as a polar opposite of the Richie Rich major leagues. As we know, a little on-target symbolism never hurts in our sentimental old town.

"Our players are different, no doubt about that," Speros said. "The CFL has never had a strike."

Make no mistake: The longer and nastier the strike is, the more the (Nicknames Withheld Due to Pending Litigation) benefit.

Not that Speros is trying to steal fans from the Orioles. He knows better than that. "We can't compete with the Orioles," he said.

And not that he plans to gleefully attack the absence of baseball on the sporting landscape. That could backfire, angering bitter fans.

"We might run an ad saying something like, 'You can still come see Toronto at our place,' " Speros said, "but that's about it. We already had aggressive marketing plans in place long before we thought about a baseball strike."

No, there really isn't much Speros needs to do in this case. He just needs to stand there and let the windfall of added attention and thrill-seeking fans pump more life into his franchise.

"I have a horseshoe on the wall in my office," Speros said. "I think I'm going to keep it right where it is."

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