The Charlotte Observer
WITHOUT SUPPORT, HORNETS MAY GO, SAY BELL
Charlotte Hornets President Upton Bell said Monday the future of Charlotte's World Football League franchise will depend on attendance in the final five home games.
"Unless we have 14-16,000 paid attendance for the rest of the season, I don't see any future for pro football in Charlotte," Bell said.
"That is not a threat, it is reality. If attendance doesn't improve, I am going to have a decision to make - whether to fold the to team or move it." Only once in five games - 15,900 for Southern California - have more than 15,000 to a home game at Memorial Stadium. The team is averaging only 10,880 fans a game, ranking eighth of the 10 teams in the WFL a head of Philadelphia and Portland. Before the season started, Bell said the Hornets had to average over 12,000 fans to break even.
THE HORNETS HAVE fared better on the field, compiling a 6-5 record with a team lacking "name" stars. All Hornet players are on percentage contracts receiving $500 per game and percentage of gate receipts over the break-even point.
"I cannot continue to ask our players to constantly walk out on the field and count the house," said Bell, "I am not going to ask any of our players to take a cut in pay, I will fold the team first.
"It's simply black and white. I want the team to remain here as long as it is a visible product. But we can't continue to operate on this attendance. The City of Charlotte has to decided whether it wants pro football or not."
When Bell moved the New York Stars to Charlotte in September of last year, he called the city "the last great untapped area for pro football," in four home games, the Hornets drew an average of 22,000 fans while playing Wednesday nights.
BUT THE PROBLEMS encountered by the World Football League last season - missed payrolls, unpaid debts and ultimate bankruptcy - has caused a credibility gap the Hornets and other teams had difficulty overcoming. Bell said the Hornets are paying all their bills this season despite the slump in attendance.
"I still believe Charlotte should be a great football area," he said. "But the response this year just doesn't make sense to me. Sure we made our mistakes but they were honest mistakes. We've put out last year's problems behind us. I don't know what else we can do."
Bell said he became especially concerned about Charlotte attendance when the team drew only 7,500 against Jacksonville in its last home game, played on as sunny Sunday afternoon (Oct. 13) with the world Series and National Football League games on television.
"I'VE HEARD ALL the excuses," said Bell. "The World Series was on television... the weather was nice... this is golf country... the tickets prices are too high... Well, Charlotte Motor Speedway charges $25 for some tickets and has 60,000 people out (the speedway actually charges $25 for only 1,800 tickets; the average is $12 a ticket); there are plays in town charging $8-10 for tickets. I just can't believe any of those excuses.
"We only play nine times a year and we've put in promotions and discounts an lowered our tickets to $2.50 for students. I don't know what else we can do."
The Hornets are expecting a large crowd for Saturday night's game against Hawaii NBC-TV will tap the game for later telecast on its Sunday afternoon Grandstand show. In a special promotion, the Chamber of Commerce has purchased 8,000 tickets at $2 each in hops of filling 25,000-seat Memorial Stadium for the TV cameras. Bell says the Saturday crowd should easily be the largest of the season.
AFTER THE DISAPPOINTING Sunday afternoon crowd for the Jacksonville game, Bell has witched the Birmingham's game, scheduled for Sunday Nov. 16 to Saturday night Nov. 15.
The remaining home games fro the Hornets are Saturday against Hawaii, Sun Nov. 2 against Shreve port, Nov 15 against Birmingham and Sunday. Dec. 7 against Memphis.
Bell said the Shreveport game could not be switched to Saturday night because of a previously scheduled Johnson C. Smith University game and the Memphis game wasn't changed because of the heavy advanced sale to see the Larry Csonka-led Southmen.
The average attendance in the WFL this season has been 13,323.
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