Marred by poor play, low attendance, Mania seeking financial kick

More investors are sought as cash shortage threatens A-League club's viability

June 13, 1999|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

The expansion Maryland Mania, struggling on the field and at the gate, is seeking additional investment to offset chronic financial problems, team president A. J. Ali said before last night's ninth game of a 28-game A-League schedule.

"We'll make it through the season, but it's going to be tough," Ali said. "We're making cuts across the board in our budget, and some programs we wanted to do will just have to wait."

Among the cutbacks will be a team magazine and operation of its summer camp.

"We're just going to try to do whatever we do well," Ali said of the 1-8 team, which lost at home to the Jacksonville Cyclones, 3-0, last night. "We just want to win some games. The team's been playing well, but we have a few missing pieces, and part of that I attribute to the money situation.

"I guess you could say we're fishing," he said of the hunt for more money. "Right now, we're talking with people."

Ali said the team, backed by a group of mainly Columbia investors, never amassed the upfront money -- about $500,000 -- it needed. The team paid its $150,000 franchise fee but missed a discount by not being able to post it early enough, he said.

"Instead of having, say, a half-million dollars in the bank all at once from the very beginning, it's been $25,000 here, $50,000 there, sometimes just in the nick of time," Ali said. "It's always been not enough to let us do what we need to do to make the organization viable.

"Money can fix a lot of things. There are other teams, and I'm not just talking about Rochester, that have budgets that are twice as much as ours."

The defending A-League champion Rochester Raging Rhinos, who average about 10,000 fans a game, are considered minor-league soccer's most successful organization.

The lack of working capital, Ali said, is compounded by low attendance at UMBC Stadium, where the Mania, which has improved in recent games despite continuing losses, has played six games.

Only a couple games have produced crowds announced as exceeding 1,000; the rest, including last night's announced 510, have "We have a few missing pieces, and part of that I attribute to the money situation. A. J. Ali, team president drawn in the 300-to-700 range. Eleven of the team's remaining 19 games will be away -- additional expense in a league without revenue sharing.

"We've been very disappointed," Ali said, "but we knew going in that UMBC was going to be tough. No one has ever done well here."

In fact, the semipro Bays also collapsed after a couple seasons at UMBC Stadium, a convenient facility off Interstate 95 but a synthetic-turf field that soccer fans, especially, dislike because of how it speeds up the ball, altering play. But the Baltimore area has no other small stadium close to the largest core of potential fans, those in the Columbia area and parts of Anne Arundel County.

"We were forced to play here, really," said Ali, who has said the team's long-range plans are to build a new, soccer-specific stadium in the Columbia area within two years. The team lost a key political ruling that would have let it play initially at Columbia's Cedar Lane Park, a grass field that provided an often-electric setting in the early 1990s for the Maryland Bays -- one of several pro teams that have failed financially in Baltimore.

In last night's game, Jacksonville, now 7-5, took a 1-0 halftime lead on a 32nd-minute penalty kick by forward Mankea Cozier after a takedown in the penalty box by Mania defender Trevor Ellis.

It became 2-0 in the 51st minute on a 6-yarder by forward Brian Nickerson past rookie goalkeeper Brock Yetso. Seven minutes later, Nickerson scored again from close range, making it 3-0.

Goals--J, Cozier (32nd minute, PK), Nickerson 2 (51st, 58th). Assists--J, Cozier, Munoz. Shots--J 12, M 18. Saves--J, Casola 8, M, Hunter 1, Yetso 2. Yellow cards--J 2, M 3. Halftime--J, 1-0.

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