Acknowledging the bleak financial picture that has disrupted his Grey Cup victory party, Baltimore Stallions owner Jim Speros yesterday announced a season ticket drive that he hopes will enable him to keep the team here.
The "Save Our Stallions" drive, an effort that will be run mainly by volunteers in the Special Teamers, the team's booster club, begins tomorrow and runs through Jan. 5. The goal is to sign up 20,000 season-ticket holders for the 1996 season, a number Speros thinks will make the Stallions a viable Canadian Football League commodity in Baltimore, despite the expected arrival of the NFL Cleveland Browns next year.
Speros is asking for a $100 deposit per seat. The money will be refunded if he decides to move the team, a decision he plans to make in five weeks.
"With the dilemma this football team is in right now, I see no other alternative than to have a ticket drive to show the support that we need," Speros said. "I need an indicator of whether we can make it here. The next 30 days are going to be rough on our organization."
Outside of the enjoyment that came with beating Calgary 11 days ago -- when Baltimore became the first American-based team to take the Grey Cup in the 83-year history of the game -- November has been disastrous for the organization.
The Stallions played host to playoff games before lackluster crowds on the first two weekends of the month when news of the Browns' move broke. Their playoff opener against Winnipeg on Nov. 4 drew barely 21,000 fans, the lowest attendance in the franchise's two-year history.
Speros had hoped to cut the team's $1.2 million deficit in half during the postseason. Instead, he said the Stallions lost $97,000 over those two games.
Speros said he still has an $800,000 debt to settle with "60 or 70" vendors, a situation he said will be resolved "in the next 30 days, one way or the other. Every vendor will be paid."
Speros fears an NFL presence will cost him at least half of the sponsorship he had this year.
During Grey Cup week, Speros had hoped to welcome a group of about a dozen local investors to the fold, but those plans have been put on hold. Since Grey Cup week, nearly all of the team's front office personnel have been laid off.
"Our football operations are frozen right now. We don't have money to do anything with. That's why the 20,000 ticket base is so important," Speros said.
"The damage has been done to our football organization. This should be a time when we're relaxing and celebrating what we've done. I feel bad for the players. We started here. We want to stay here. We're Baltimore's team."
The team will accept season-ticket deposits by check, cash, money order or credit card. Deposits can be made at any Baltimore County Savings Bank Branch, called in to the club's ticket office at (410) 554-1010, or mailed to the Stallions at Memorial Stadium, 1000 E. 33rd Street, Baltimore, Md. 21218. Make checks payable to Baltimore Stallions S.O.S.
Special Teamers volunteers also will accept deposits at the Memorial Stadium ticket windows from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Saturday in December.