Spirit sold to local owner

Hale apparently buys team to keep it here

March 29, 1998|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

Bill Stealey, owner of the Spirit throughout its six-year history, announced at half-time of the team's 16-11 victory over Kansas City last night that he has sold the soccer team to local interests.

The closest Stealey would come to confirming that former Baltimore Blast owner Ed Hale had purchased the club, however, was saying: "I started out as a Baltimore Blast season-ticket holder several years ago ... and tomorrow I will be a season- ticket holder of the Blast again."

Along with the rumor that Hale, a banker and owner of the Baltimore Bays of the United Systems of Independent Soccer Leagues, was interested in returning to professional soccer was that he planned on resurrecting the nickname Blast.

Stealey's statement thus appeared to serve as a double confirmation.

Stealey, in making the announcement to the crowd, which boosted Spirit attendance past 100,000 for the season, said. "This is my last night as Spirit owner. But Baltimore soccer will continue.

"It's been a great six years for the Spirit and I want to thank the fans, great soccer lovers, all the players who have played here and the staff, led by (general manager) Drew Forrester and (coach) Mike Stankovic." A month ago, after absorbing more than $3 million in losses over the six seasons, Stealey said that unless a campaign to raise 50,000 presold tickets for next season was successful, he could not see himself continuing as owner.

The campaign which ends tomorrow, sold about 32,000 tickets, about 60 percent of them new sales.

Stealey had said he would entertain offers for the club and the possibility of taking on a minority investor.

Three groups expressed an interest in purchasing the club, Hale among them, and another group was interested in investing.

"It was a good and substantial offer," Forrester said of the bid by the investor group, "and Bill did consider it.

Obviously, the offer was not sufficient to sway Stealey, a Raleigh, N.C., businessman, to remain as team owner.

"I can't over-stress how much fun I had as owner here. Sure, it was tough sometimes, but we did what we could." said Stealey, known as "Wild Bill," harkening back to his days as a jet pilot.

On his business card, Stealey has a picture of an airplane. "The company jet I would have bought if I hadn't gotten involved with the Spirit," he said.

"In all the years I was involved here, I never had anyone come up to me and complain. They all said they had fun. We all had a good time, and we provided quality entertainment in a family atmosphere We just didn't have enough fans, unfortunately."

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