When a nine-foot owl creates a flap, people sit up and take notice.
Hooters, the restaurant chain/Arena Football League franchise with the towering mascot, is crying foul at the Miami Herald's noncoverage of the team's arenaball games.
"For fantastic coverage of arena football's hard-hitting, fast-paced, '50-yard war on the floor,' READ THE SUN-SENTINEL," proclaims an ad published in the June 16 issue of New Times. The Hooters, now in the midst of their second season, contracted for the bold announcement in this paper after the ad was rejected by the Herald.
"It's almost like they're unwilling to admit the Arena League exists," chirps Chris Campbell, the team's marketing director. "We're poking fun at that attitude. I mean, over half a million tickets were sold in the AFL's eleven major markets nationwide before the first down was even played this year. Our attendance at the arena averages between 7000 and 8000 per game. We have four home games and one away game on ESPN. Wayne Huizenga, Don Shula, Chris Evert, and a lot of Dolphins and Heat players were at our last home game. But the Herald practically ignores us because they don't like our name, which, we all know, simply refers to owls."
Lack of coverage is only the tip of the Hooter. Equally nonsensical, in Campbell's view, is the daily paper's policy, in place since last season, regarding the use of the word "Hooters" in print. "We don't use the word 'Hooters' in display type -- headlines, photo captions, anything more prominent than regular text," explains Herald assistant sports editor Dave Wilson. Wilson denied a rumor purportedly leaked to Hooters management by sources at the Herald that there is an official limit on the number of times the word "Hooters" can appear in any article about the team ("less than a pair," according to Hooters). He did, however, admit, "We don't go out of our way to use it in text."
"No paper in any of the other markets has a problem with our name," squawks Hooters media-relations director Brad Silcox, producing an article from the Las Vegas Sun headed "Sting vs. Hooters." To buttress his case, Silcox presents the sports section of the Orlando Sentinel, which offers a front-page story complete with color photo and the headline, "Predators romp past Hooters."
A quick riffle through the sports pages of past Heralds bears out Campbell's and Silcox's complaints. There was no coverage whatsoever of the Hooters's first game of the season, a 35-22 victory on May 21 against the Las Vegas Sting. The team's second game and home opener, a 45-23 win over the Charlotte Rage, merited only a box score on page seventeen. In no Herald story written this season has the controversial team name been used more than once. (By way of comparison, a nine-paragraph review of the Florida Hammerheads's roller hockey season opener mentioned that team's moniker five times, with additional citings in the headline, photo caption, and accompanying schedule box.)
Not content to sit back and let the Herald play them for a bunch of boobs, the Hooters swung into action and nipped it in the bud. On June 8 the team launched a counterattack code-named "David vs. Goliath." First they named the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel the team's official paper. Then they enlisted the aid of WZTA-FM (94.9) drive-time radio hosts Ron and Ron. Finally, they threatened to organize a protest march led by the Hooters dance team from the Bayside Hooters restaurant to One Herald Plaza, as well as a boat parade protest past the rear of the Herald building. "Whooo would you trust?" billboards comparing photos of bespectacled Herald publisher David Lawrence, Jr., with an inflatable Hootie the owl mascot, a massive letter-writing campaign, and Herald-shredding contests at halftime of Hooters games were also under consideration.
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To those who were keeping abreast of the controversy, for a brief moment it appeared the Herald was bowing to the pressure. On June 21, after a 53-27 win over the Milwaukee Mustangs at the arena the night before, the Herald ran a three-column, ten-paragraph story complete with box score and photograph. The article did not mention the word "Hooters" in the headline or photo caption, and the photograph was an action shot of quarterback Michael Burkhead in the act of passing, the Hooters logo on his jersey discreetly obscured by a blocker's helmet. But at least it was a story, and with a photo, to boot. Cautious optimism cloaked the Hooters like an angora sweater.
But then, inexplicably, the Herald reverted to form. A meeting between Herald brass and Hooters ownership scheduled for June 28 was postponed by the paper, which subsequently informed the football team that they would not be sending a writer to Tampa to cover the squad's June 25 intrastate showdown against the 1993 Arena Bowl champion Tampa Bay Storm. At press time Hooters management was considering paying a stringer to cover the contest.
Initially the Hooters sagged at the news of these setbacks. But the lull was only momentary. "The people will be heard!" crowed Campbell emphatically.
The Hooters had bounced back.