Crowd count is ticket to honesty for Speros

October 21, 1994|By JOHN STEADMAN

It's understandable that Jim Speros is elated over how Baltimore has responded to his Canadian Football League venture, discovering it's an exciting game, played by well-coordinated athletes and presented with colorful wrappings -- including the proper sound effects during the national anthem when the singer comes to the part about "bombs bursting in air" and Memorial Stadium rocks with exploding fireworks.

That's only the beginning of the excitement. Then there's the matter of home attendance. There has been some wonderment that the announced home crowd figures weren't legitimate. Was the total pumped up to deceive the public into believing there are more spectators in the seats than the actual number of tickets sold?

This is an old dodge by promoters, but Speros insists he's not a part of any such caper. If so, it would be a despicable act of duplicity. In the past, the idea has been among some entrepreneurs that if you give the impression spectators are flocking to the games it will have a subliminal reaction. More of them will be tempted, out of curiosity, to go see for themselves, thus increasing the possibility of selling more tickets.

From past experience, an owner of the Baltimore Colts, not Robert Irsay, would get the actual ticket figures and add to them, out of thin air, to create what he believed would be a demand for others to buy seats for upcoming games. It was a trick that worked. Don't ever believe, even if it wounds your provincial pride, that the Colts had 51 consecutive sellouts.

Pimlico Race Course has a bad habit of swelling Preakness crowds. On one previous occasion, it even distorted the number by a staggering 30,000. The Maryland State Racing Commission should take steps to end the practice. If a racetrack can't provide something as basic as an honest count on the number of fans present then how can it be perceived as being creditable in other ways?

Speros is giving away tickets to youth groups and charitable organizations. He deserves to be applauded. It's a matter that deserves to be fully explained or else it could have an adverse reaction on the Baltimore fans and the CFL itself -- making it appear to be something less than the booming success the new team has been portrayed.

When asked directly about the plan, he offered an interesting reaction. "We give away from 1,000 to 2,000 tickets a game and we don't favor the same charity more than once," Speros said. "I will continue the program if we sell 54,000 seats or 34,000. Bonnie Downing, who works in our front office, does a great job with the direction of this charitable aspect.

"In the future some corporations may buy tickets and give them to charities. It would be good public relations for all concerned. We would benefit by selling the tickets and they would benefit by presenting them to charities. Each game, we send Mayor Kurt Schmoke a report on where such tickets have been circulated."

What Speros says is important. If people in football start whispering that Baltimore CFL crowds are inflated or misrepresented it becomes a serious negative. Credibility would be damaged. Word spreads to press boxes and sports !c organizations in all parts of the country.

To Speros' credit, he is allowing youngsters to view the CFL who otherwise would be denied the opportunity since they lack the price of admission. It's also a way to build interest and develop a fan base. At the same time, Speros was told the public deserves to know how many seats are being given away for each game in the name of charity.

If Speros would do this then there'll be an even stronger awareness in the community of the kind of good neighbor he is trying to be. The owner would gather momentous applause and gain additional respect. He'd be recognized as a football philanthropist, enabling advertisers and sponsors to take even more pride in the Baltimore CFLs.

The National Football League, when it announces the number of fans present for a game, specifies "tickets sold" and "no-shows." Speros reacted to the suggestion that he do something similar by saying he may designate "tickets sold" and "tickets distributed." A method clarifying the situation is in his best interests. Then he could not be placed in a position of being wrongly depicted as another hustling promoter who is "papering the house."

Consideration toward charities and to supervised groups is a plus for Speros. There's no intent, he says, to deceive the press and public with phony crowd counts. That would be pulling a bush-league trick on a major-league city. To the contrary. He emphasizes the free tickets are motivated by charitable desires.

A total from between 1,000 and 2,000 is a justifiable figure, comparatively modest, and one that earns more plaudits for Speros and his CFL creation -- depending, of course, on the objective he espoused in giving away tickets.

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