by Bill Tanton
Evening Sun Sports Editor
Two sports experiments have been taking place in our midst for the past two months—World Team Tennis and a professional box lacrosse league.
Team Tennis is such a dismal failure at this point that it is known primarily for its poor crowds and the immense financial losses its owners are suffering.
Recently I talked with a man who had just seen the Baltimore WTT team perform at the Civic Center. The dialogue illustrates the general public reaction.
“Saw the Banners last night,” he said.
“How’d they do?” I asked.
“Oh, about 700 people,” he said.
Crowds of 400 and 500 have turned out to see the Banners even when they had Jimmy Connors, presently the No. 3 seed at Wimbledon. Jimmy left to go to Europe, the Banners reduced their ticket price to $2 and the crowds doubled and tripled.
And the losses mounted. You can’t pay Jimmy Connors’s $100,000 and make money by selling 1,000 tickets at $2 per. The situation is the same all over the league. WTT President Jordan Kaiser says there’s not a team breaking even.
And then there is the other experiment, the National Lacrosse League, in which the Maryland Arrows compete, playing their home games at the Capital Centre in Landover, Md.
It’s Ice Hockey On Feet
In its own way, box lacrosse is as much of a surprise as team tennis has been.
The team tennis owners can’t believe how few people they’re drawing. In all honesty, they thought they’d draw three times as many as they have.
The box lacrosse owners can’t believe how many they’re attracting. They thought they’d get crowds one-third the size that have been turning up, and, again, this is the case all over the league.
Last Saturday night I finally went to the Capital Centre to see the Arrows. It was weird, man.
The things happening on that green and royal blue floor were foreign to me, even though I’ve been watching lacrosse for some 30 years.
What the Arrows and Philadelphia Wings were playing was not lacrosse anyway. It was ice hockey on foot.
Player identity? Zilch. So you buy a program and see that the high scorer for Philadelphia, which won the game, 17-9, is Larry Lloyd. So who’s Larry Lloyd? The names mean nothing.
I had the impression that a bunch of tough guys had flown down from Canada that day, one bunch put on the Maryland uniform and the other climbed into the Philly uniform and they then proceeded to beat the daylights out of each other.
Crime In The Safe Suburbs
I had that impression because that’s exactly what had happened, but, obviously, it didn’t bother any of the 8,367 persons in the Centre. That was the Arrows’ biggest crowd of the season, but they have drawn numerous audiences of 6,000 and 7,000. I tell you, the thing is going over.
During the course of the evening I me Ed Tepper, owner of the Philadelphia team.
“We thought we’d average 3,000 people at most,” he confessed, “but we played a game the other night before 11,200. We’re averaging about 8,000.”
Buddy Beardmore, the general manager of the Arrows, is en route to Australia with the U.S. field lacrosse team for the World Games, but Buddy’s assistant, Fred Kramer, was on hand to explain the box lacrosse phenomenon.
“The game appeals to hockey fans,” Fred said. “It has no dead spots. The fans like the roughness, the body contact, the constant substitutions as in hockey and the 30-second clock.”
The Arrows’ crowd was very young and very white. The house is scaled to a $4 top; half the tickets are priced at $2.
The unexpected success of box lacrosse has brought changes. Arrangements are now being made to put the players, those who want to do it, on full-time duty here, with the Arrows making up the difference in pay they would have earned on their jobs in Canada. That will eliminate those hectic round trip flights from Canada on game days. There is even a report that the players want to organize, like the professional athletes in other sports in America.
The most memorable thing that happened all night had nothing to do with box lacrosse, but it had a lot to do with the current sports scene.
You know how so many people insist that today’s sports facilities be built in the safe suburbs, away from the crime of the inner cities? Well, I went to the Arrows game with Bob Ferry, the general manager of the Bullets, and guess what happened? Ferry’s car was stolen off the parking lot at the Capital Centre.
He never had a bit of trouble in the years he worked in the Civic Center in downtown Baltimore.
(Baltimore Evening Sun, June 25, 1974)