Beer executive Dave Morris flew in from his St. Louis headquarters Tuesday to conduct some important business here in town. No, not on Capitol Hill, nor in some office building downtown, nor even at a surburban distillery. "In this trade," the Anheuser-Busch marketing executive said, "our wholesale distributors are mighty important. Keep their morale up, make them happy, and we're sure as heck happy."
So Tuesday night Morris and Chicago ad man Ralph Kurec met in Landover to do a little entertaining at the Capital Centre. The occasion was the closed-circuit telecast of the welter-weight championship bout in New Orleans between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran. The site was Anheuser-Busch's own, $27,000-a-year leased private suite, a veritable condo perched sky high above the cavern floor.
Their mission, of course, was to make the wholesalers feel important, and on that point they couldn't help but succeed.
"Well, yes," Kurec said, raising his voice above the din, pouring another Busch, and surveying the sight of 30 local wholesalers downng brew, huddling over color television sets and otherwise engaging in a down-home display of merchantile comraderie. "You could say this suite is very worthwhile. It serves a purpose, yes."
Fight night at the Capital Centre is not entirely main men, nervous bettors, and fist fights in the aisles. Ten thousand fans attended Tuesday's telecast of the Bayou Fold, in which Duran announced his retirement from boxing in the middle of the eighth round, and for the most pat every conceivable generalization about fight crowds seemed appropriate.
At 50 bucks a seat the fans down in general admission, many in cowboy boots and extravagant hats, were rightly determined to get their money's worth. b
"Touch me again and you're gonna end up on the floor," replied one spectator to an anguished usher, who tapped him on the shoulder, told him about fire regulations and demanded that he take a seat rather than stand in the aisle.
Among the general public where the adrenalin flowed as freely as the liquor, the fight was the thing -- clenched fists, edge-of-seat shouts, and hard slaps on the back for Leonard, the hometwon wonder.
"Damn, another reporter," said Charles Smyre, a Distric cabdriver, his eyes remaining fixed on the screen during the fight's heady seventh round. "Hit him, Sugar, dance . . . 'Ere ya go, that's it, hit that son . . . look, blood," he said finally, "I'll talk to you later. Let me watch the man."
But in the sky suites, those luminous boxes seemingly suspended from the rafters like so many stars, the occasion of the bout was more important -- a chance to entertain, to strike a few deals perhaps, to make clients feel wanted. This was the lair of bankers and accountants, contractors and ad men, industrialists and business honchos, a Romanesque gentry to the unseen, but not unheard, masses below.
"A lot of the tenants don't like publicity at all," said Nancy Lacy, the Centre's director of special seating, referring to the leasers of the arena's 40 sky suites, which range in price from $17,500 to $27,000 a year. "We had a bunch of Lockheed contractors one year. But when the scandal errupted they dropped the suite just like that because it seemed improper.
"For the most part the people who lease these suites don't like publicity because they don't like to be showy about affluence."
Very few individuals lease the condos in the sky. Most of the tenants are banks and other corporations, Lacy said, leading a visitor through a corwd of general admissions fight fans on the concourse, past a gauntlet of ushers and other security workers, up a private elevator and onto the sky suite level where a number off attendants rushed up and down the aisle delivering sandwiches and alcohol to private rooms.
Jim Lynch, a Camp Springs construction contractor, is one of the few individuals who lease suites at the center. In a doubleknit suit, with a plastic imitation of a $100 bill clipped to his tie, Lynch gave a tour of the split-level box, which includes a bar, three color televisions, a juke box and a couple of pinball games that Lynch installed himself. Upstairs, a rather high-staked poker game was going on, while downstairs an assortment of Lynch's business associates -- bankers, real estate brokers, doctors and lawyers -- traded jokes and admired the view of the boisterous crown, several flights below.
"The only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys," Lynch said. "This is a toy."
"Super, Jimmy, super, I love ya," shouted one visitor, as he stumbled toward the bar. Nudging Lynch in the ribs the man snickered, "Hey, don't tell that guy what goes on here after midnight."
"This is mainly for fun," Lynch said later. "But I've gotten whole lots of business from it. A lotta times I'll meet somebody here and we'll get to talking and before long he'll say he wants some improvement on his house. I'll give him my number and a week later, wham, I've got a contract."
Where there is business there is also competition. Last July, Busch beer acquired sponsorship of the product at Capital Centre events, taking over from Stroh's, which leases a $27,000-a-year suite on the arena's west side.Not to be outdone, Busch went about trying to lease a suite of its own. The only problem was all 40 suites were sold out. So, to appease a valued business partner, Centre owner Abe Pollin relinquished his own private suite, a split-level, centrally located box, to Busch, where Tuesday night Kurec, Morris and the wholesalers went about the business of having fun.
It didn't really matter much how the fight turned out, so long as the gathers enjoyed themselves. The noise wasn't too loud in the suite, there were ohs and ahs and an occasional curse or two about the welterweights' prowess, but of course no epithets or spontaneous fist fights in the lounge.
If this was the arena's version of upstairs, downstairs, all was quite calm and jovial in the rafters, with very little regard for happenings on the floor which, from on high, resembled a sea of heads jostling in darkness.
"This was a poor fight," shouted Louis Stevens, a Marine on leave from Quantico and ardent Duran backer, after Duran dropped his gloves and abruptly left the ring. "You know that crap was fixed."
"Duran's just quit 'cuz he couldn't hit what he couldn't see," a Leonard backer cracked.
A brief shoving match ensued before a crowd of ushers separated the two men, and it wasn't long before both worlds at the Capital Centre ventured home.