A 16% drop in attendance. A 17% to 25% dip in television
ratings. A failure to import a bevy of buzz-making stars. A
diminished presence in its two major markets. Call it a
sophomore slump, an adjustment period, a bout of the terrible
twos, but this year Major League Soccer failed to build on its
surprising rookie campaign, when crowds averaged 17,416 a game
and the league's future, like a Roberto Donadoni corner kick,
seemed to hold abundant promise.
MLS's cryptic slogan--This Stuff Kicks--never caught on during
the regular season that ended on Sunday. Teams played in
football stadiums, which made crowds seem even punier than they
were. Salary-cap constraints prevented the league from luring
high-profile players from abroad who might have made headlines.
One of the few name imports, New England Revolution goalkeeper
Walter Zenga of Italy, cited the chance to live in obscurity as
a primary reason for joining MLS.
Still, there were a few good signs. Sponsorship revenue
increased by 25%; at $20 million, the price tag on the Fort
Lauderdale expansion franchise was four times that of the 10
original teams; the quality of play was better than in 1996; and
fan bases in many cities coalesced. For instance, during a
nine-game losing streak the Revolution drew more than 20,000 a
game at home, buoyed by a rowdy booster club called the Midnight
Riders. The league will reportedly sign a six-year deal soon
with ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 that will, among other things,
guarantee 12 regular-season games on ABC in '98; this year no
regular-season games were broadcast on an over-the-air network
(ESPN and ESPN2 showed 29). The contract should not only send a
signal of the league's stability but also enable it to get free
promos on network TV.
Yet just as MLS tries to build interest next year, the World
Cup, set for June 10 to July 12 in France, will cut into the
heart of the league's schedule. "I have my hands on the tiller
of an enterprise that's being challenged," MLS commissioner Doug
Logan says, "but the mandate I've got is for a very long term.
We need to have patience."
WAIT FOR VOLUME II
Marv Albert's 1993 autobiography, I'd Love to But I Have a Game,
written with SI's Rick Reilly, chronicles his first 27 years as
a broadcaster, but it's not as revealing as it might have been.
In the opening chapter Albert recalls a major leaguer's coming
to bat with nothing on beneath his uniform pants. Then he adds
in parentheses, "This is easily the best underwear story we have
in the whole book, folks."
YEAH, THAT'S THE TICKET
A ticket for a club-level seat to a Capitals or a Wizards game
at Washington's new MCI Center goes for $48. At least that's the
price printed on the face of the ticket. However, the 3,000 club
seats are being sold only in season packages, which at $3,500
for either basketball or hockey, works out to $85.37 per game.
The $48 on the ticket, critics charge, is an attempt to get
around the U.S. Senate's 1996 rule prohibiting members and their
staffers from accepting any gift worth more than $49.99. By
printing tickets with a price under that limit, the teams are
free to market club seats to corporations and lobbyists eager to
ingratiate themselves with sports-loving lawmakers.
"Straight-out cheating" was the term used by Ann McBride,
president of the nonpartisan citizens' lobbying group Common
Cause, in describing the price on the ticket to The Washington
Post. Thomas Susman, a lawyer writing a manual on the gift rule
for the American Bar Association, told the paper that "there
appears to be gamesmanship to get the number down a hair below
the legal limit."
A split hair below. Matt Williams, spokesman for the MCI Center,
denies that the ticket price was set in an attempt to circumvent
the Senate's rule. "The seats below club level go for $50 to
$60, the seats above for $40," he says. "The figure of $48 is
right in scale." Of course, says Williams, all
amenities--club-seat lessees enjoy indoor parking privileges,
waiter service and access to the club restaurant--were "factored
out" when determining the ticket price.
The MCI Center received an O.K. on the club-seat prices in July
from the Senate ethics committee, which ruled, in essence, that
senators could use the ducats but could not avail themselves of
the perks. "Obviously," says Lisa Harrison, press secretary for
Senator Robert Smith (R., N.H.), chair of the committee,
"there's a personal-responsibility issue here."
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Though he's played in just six exhibition games for the Boston
Bruins, 18-year-old center Joe Thornton has gotten a sense of
life in the NHL. The first player taken in June's entry draft,
the 6'4", 200-pound Thornton attended an Aug. 17 road race in
Falmouth, Mass., and was recognized by dozens of passing
runners, who called out greetings. A few weeks later Thornton
spent part of his $935,000 base salary on his first car--a
black, Batmobilesque Lincoln Navigator. Then, in a Sept. 23
game, Pittsburgh Penguins center Stu Barnes delivered an on-ice
initiation with an illegal two-handed stick thwack that broke
Thornton's left wrist and will sideline him till late this month.
With all these goings-on, and with young Thornton 700 miles from
his hometown of St. Thomas, Ont., the Bruins are relieved he
isn't living alone in the big city. On the recommendation of the
team and his parents, Thornton has snuggled in with a host
family near Boston. At the home of Tom and Nicole Hynes he has
his own bedroom and a place at the table.
"I'm going to the North End to pick up a mess of pasta to bring
home for dinner," Tom Hynes, who runs a real-estate company,
said last Friday before Joe's first meal at the Hynes house. The
next day Joe went with the Hyneses to watch their son, Tod, play
defensive end for Milton Academy, a nearby prep school. Tod, who
is just four months younger than Joe and who most nights has
homework to do, figures to be a good foil for the glitz of the
Staying with host families--billeting, as it's called in hockey
circles--is common in junior hockey but much less so in the NHL.
Yet Thornton has some impressive predecessors. Mighty Ducks of
Anaheim superstar Paul Kariya stayed with a family as a
20-year-old rookie during the 1994-95 season and spent a lot of
quality time playing video games with the family's teenage boy.
Then there's Wayne Gretzky, who was 17 and with the Edmonton
Oilers when he billeted with the Bodnar family. Gretzky was a
fine guest, often popping out to the market, raking the lawn and
even enlisting 13-year-old Kelli Bodnar to play goalie for him
in the basement. Gretzky also forged a note excusing Kelli from
school and entertained her with Elvis impersonations.
Thornton, though, has no such demands at the Hynes home. "We
just want him to be able to veg out," says Tom. "He needs a
place to get away."
N.Y. JETS' DEFENSE
A typical jet airliner has a wingspan of close to 200 feet,
weighs upward of 300 tons and is vulnerable to geese. Bird
collisions damage scores of jets each year, especially at New
York's John F. Kennedy Airport, which abuts a Jamaica Bay
wildlife refuge that is home to 300 ornithological species. Some
250 bird strikes occur annually at JFK, and in 1995 an engine on
an Air France Concorde exploded during landing when a goose flew
into it. Air France is suing the New York/New Jersey Port
Authority, which operates JFK, for failing to keep birds away.
All of this explains why in July the Port Authority hired master
falconer Thomas Cullen of Goshen, N.Y. Each day Cullen and his
five-man crew patrol Kennedy's perimeter with a mews of 11
falcons and three hawks. The falcons, which fly as fast as 130
mph, are sent up to scare the bejesus out of other birds and so
far have kept them largely at bay. One foolhardy herring gull
did visit JFK in sight of the falcons recently and was swiftly
The hawks, meanwhile, are dispatched to the shrubbery on the
airport grounds. In addition to keeping that greenery clear of
feathered foes, they've snagged a half dozen black-tailed
jackrabbits, descendants of a dog-track-bound batch that escaped
in the 1960s when their transport cage was dropped on a runway.
These aren't flush times for the hall of fame business.
Attendance is down in Cooperstown, and Canton, as well as in
Springfield, Mass., where the Basketball Hall of Fame hopes to
triple its annual visitorship with a $104 million expansion
project that will add restaurants, shops, an IMAX theater and
acres of exhibition space in the next two years. Yet instead of
all of basketball consolidating in Springfield, in a single
hooplex that would celebrate a global, genderless game, the
groundbreaking of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame is set for
next month in Knoxville, Tenn.
The board of the Basketball Hall of Fame tried to persuade
organizers of the women's hall to reconsider their plans and
back the expanded shrine in Springfield, which will accommodate
much more women's memorabilia than is currently on display. But
talks broke down over induction procedures. For 25 years
Springfield was all male, and not until 1992 did it enshrine a
woman player. With Monday's induction of UCLA All-America Denise
Curry and AAU stalwart Joan Crawford, the basketball hall counts
only 13 women among its 222 members. "The [women's hall] wants
to make up for lost time," says Robin Deutsch, spokesman for the
Springfield hall. "Their classes could number 15. They wanted us
to make that kind of commitment."
Springfield enshrines about two women a year and wouldn't
promise to accelerate its pace. So, with many deserving figures
from the distaff game uninducted, Knoxville forged ahead. "This
is not a competitive situation," says Don Gibson, who was to
take over as head of the Springfield hall on Oct. 1. Indeed,
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt sits on the boards of both
institutions, and Deutsch points out that the sport supports
other halls of fame, such as Indiana's.
Even as Springfield wishes Knoxville luck and vows to continue
to induct women, questions remain about the marketplace. "This
business isn't easy," says Deutsch. "After the initial wave of
success they'll have, and deserve, they'll face the question of
how to get people back. It's a problem we face every day."
Prize money, in dollars, paid to the first-round losers at
tennis's Grand Slam Cup in Munich.
Dallas radio stations on which Cowboys third-string quarterback
Jason Garrett has a show.
Price, in dollars, of the average NHL ticket this season,
marking the first time any league's average has topped $40.
Days lost per injury, on average, for high school football
Days lost per injury, on average, for high school cheerleaders.
At bats between home runs for Braves shortstop Rafael Belliard,
whose streak ended last Friday.
7, 6 1/2
Height, in feet and inches, of new Harlem Globetrotter center
Dut Mayar of Sudan, the tallest 'trotter ever.
Traffic cones set out by Spanish police each day during the
Ryder Cup to divide a two-lane road into three lanes and ease
traffic flow in and out of Sotogrande.
WEBS OF VANITY
WBC welterweight champ Oscar De La Hoya, whose Web site was
hyped ad nauseam before and after his Sept. 13 decision over
Hector (Macho) Camacho (look for De La Hoya at
www.oscardelahoya.com), is hardly the only athlete with an
address on the Internet.
Like everything else on-line, athlete pages offer material that
runs the gamut from cool (how to hold a knuckleball on
www.tomcandiotti.com) to not-so-cool (a fake Tonya Harding
postage stamp on www.tonyaharding.com).
As the following sample indicates, some sites touch both
extremes. And even a few oldsters are getting into the action.
WWW.GAYLORDPERRY.COM HITS: 1,327
COOL: Describes how his Hall of Fame career took off in 1964. "I
was the 11th man on a team that carried 11 pitchers," Perry
writes. "I needed to learn another pitch ... It was the spitter."
NOT SO COOL: Flogging of $25 jar of petroleum jelly autographed
by Perry and labeled Gaylord's Secret Ingredient.
WWW.LARRYHOLMES.COM HITS: 2,038
COOL: Former heavyweight champ's site includes detailed listing
of his 72 pro fights, including the opponent, location and
result for each.
NOT SO COOL: Hawking of the $25 Larry Holmes Golf Shirt.
WWW.TARALIPINSKI.COM HITS: 1.1 MILLION
COOL: The 15-year-old world champion figure skater posts a
regularly updated, child-friendly journal of her travels and
NOT SO COOL: Lipinski's name-dropping, from Rosie O'Donnell to
David Letterman to Snow White--who, we're told, "has been a
friend of mine since my first trip to Disney World (12 years
WWW.RONALDINHO.COM HITS: 155,637
COOL: Brazilian soccer star Ronaldo's trilingual (English,
Italian, Portuguese) site has videos of his goals for Inter
Milan of the Italian league.
NOT SO COOL: "Favorites" section, including pictures of
Ronaldo's favorite actor (Sylvester Stallone) and actress (Demi
WWW.JEFFGORDON.COM HITS: 32,204,360
COOL: NASCAR fans can listen during each race to live broadcasts
of Gordon's in-car radio transmissions.
NOT SO COOL: An upcoming guided tour of Gordon's four-bedroom
mansion outside Charlotte.
Last week's Louis Vuitton Classic auto show brought 50 of the
world's rarest cars to New York City. They included these
celebrated Ferraris, in honor of the Prancing Horse's 50th
1962 250 GTO.
Once owned by Grand Prix champ John Surtees. Value: $4,000,000.
'63 250/330 P.
Finished third at Le Mans that year. $2,500,000.
'60 250 GT SWB.
Stirling Moss listened to its radio while racing. $2,000,000.
'47 166 Spyder Corsa.
Oldest surviving Ferrari. $1,500,000.
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
A New York City-based manufacturer is marketing a putter with a
hollowed-out, cedar-lined shaft that also serves as a humidor
for up to four cigars.
Indiana University running backs coach, on whether he wants his
three-year-old son, Anthony Jr., to play football: "I'd rather
for him to use his brain than for him to get it beat out of him."