Punt

Sure, Miami has an empty stadium. And sure, Bruce Frey has pigskin on the brain. But that's no excuse for the Canadian football league.

The money spent on the exhibition is only a fraction of what it would cost to maintain a Canadian League team, judging by the experiences of other CFL cities. For example, Baltimore charges its CFL team virtually no rent at Municipal Stadium, and after only one season, city and state authorities contributed nearly two million dollars in improvements, despite the team's losing money and despite a sharp drop in the number of season tickets sold. "It's not profitable, no," says Molin Perit of the Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks. "But we're pleased because it is such a huge facility and somebody is occupying it."

Because Canadian football is played on a wider field than is the American version, renovations are necessary at a number of stadiums where expansion teams play. The Orange Bowl, because it is being remodeled to accommodate a wide Olympic soccer field next summer, will not have to incur this cost, but that doesn't mean there won't be other, CFL-specific expenses. Birmingham, Alabama, also an Olympic soccer site, has spent $200,000 in renovations for the Barracudas alone.

Despite these figures, Frey has convinced Miami officials that the Manatees will be a moneymaker. Using highly optimistic and unscientific attendance projections of 25,000 fans per event (which would make Miami one of the most popular teams in the league), Frey predicts the city will earn $625,000 per year in concession and parking proceeds. Commissioner De Yurre, in a television interview a day before the game, bumped that estimate up to two million dollars per year. (Later he admitted his estimate was not necessarily accurate. "If it's not two million dollars, it's one and a half million dollars," he said. "We're looking at making a good chunk of money over the next ten years.")

Allen R. Sanderson, a University of Chicago professor who teaches the economics of sports, noted in a recent interview that sports teams actually provide few economic benefits to a city. Most of the money generated by such teams is local money, he explained, which Miamians would have spent in Miami anyway. "A lot of expenditures are largely substitutions in a family's recreation budget," Sanderson said. "If I'm going to watch a pro football game or whatever, I just won't play golf that afternoon. This is where the Chamber of Commerce gets into the biggest trouble. Every report of ticket sales and beer revenues is a decrease someplace else."

Beyond the dubious economic benefits of hosting any team, Sanderson worries about how well the Canadian league would draw in a locale that already has an NFL team. People pay to see the best, he said, and they tend to ignore anything less. To illustrate his point, he turned to Denver, where the Zephyrs, the top minor-league baseball team of the Milwaukee Brewers, played their home games in Denver's Mile High Stadium. Two years ago, when the Major League Colorado Rockies replaced the Zephyrs in Mile High, attendance increased tenfold. "It was kind of staggering to me that there was that much more interest between Triple-A and Major League baseball," Sanderson said. "It suggests that if a CFL team were to come into Miami and participate against the Dolphins and against the Miami Hurricanes football teams, well, my guess is they won't draw worth a darn."

But Frey and city officials stubbornly believe there is an untapped market of fans in Miami willing to pay about fifteen dollars to watch professional football in the Orange Bowl. The Manatees would play a summer season with little overlap on the Dolphins, who start in the fall. According to Frey and his supporters at city hall, if the Manatees were stocked with former Hurricane, Seminole, and Gator players, they could do fantastically well. Of course, Frey and his advocates have no research to back up that belief; they are simply convinced it will work.

That conviction might have been put to the test at the exhibition game (a snoozer won by Baltimore 43-0), where the attendance figures became a matter of controversy. Early in the second quarter, a city official casually estimated there were about 12,000 people in the stands. Several reporters in the press box did double takes. "That is nuts," said one. There only appeared to be about 8000 people in the stadium, perilously close to the figure Frey said would send him drinking at the corner bar.

The official attendance was announced late in the fourth quarter. When a voice over the P.A. put the number at 20,250, loud sarcastic jeers rained down from the press box. "That's hysterical!" howled one reporter. "Maybe they counted the homeless people within a three-block radius of the stadium," said another. "I guess the attendance was calculated using the Canadian exchange rate," joked a third. One reporter called a stadium official to see if the security guards and other stadium workers had been included in the total. They had been.

Frey maintained his enthusiasm, if somewhat defensively, after the figures were announced. And he kept his zeal even after the Sunday papers lampooned the game and mocked the turnout. Sports writers can think what they want, he said; they get paid to be controversial. "The only person who has to be satisfied with the crowd estimate is me," he insisted. "And I'm satisfied." He did agree that the attendance figures were probably inaccurate. "What's the difference -- 20,000 fans, 16,000 fans? There were a lot of people at the game."

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