Hot-air balloon rides. Marilyn Chambers (remember the Ivory Snow girl?) playing soccer in a halter-top. Fields painted red, white and blue. Giveaways by the dozen. Thousands and thousands of free tickets. Honey Deips, Shakers and Wowdies (cheerleaders). Starting lineups introduced by a motorcycle parade.

These are only a few of the gimmicks and promotions North American Soccer League teams have used to try to lure fans to their parks.

Attendance in the NASL is up this season - way up in fact, closing in on 3 million. But somewhere around 30 to 35 per cent of those coming through the turnstiles have done so for free, according to league sources.

Nevertheless, there is no questioning the fact that the NASL has come a long way. In the past, teams couldn't even give away tickets. Now some clubs are actually selling quite a few of them.

Different methods have been used in different cities to draw the fans. The Cosmos, who lead the league in attendance with an average of close to 34,000 fans a game, have used a simple formula: Step one - sign superstars; step two - appeal to local ethnic groups (the Cosmos have players from 11 different countries on their current roster).

On the other hand, the Minnesota Kicks, second in league attendance with an average of just under 33,000 a game, have taken a different tack. The Kicks have promoted heavily and tried to appeal to young adults and children. They have also won games - which helps.

In Washington home of the Honey Dip cheerleaders (get it) and the motorcycle parade, the giveaways and gimmicks have been unceasing. When the Diplomats hit a horrible scoring slump at midseason, general manager John Carbray brought in a witch doctor to hex the opponent at the next home game. His name? Chief Diplascore, of course.

"I know we could probably take a hard line on our tickets and have 5,000 people in here every night and tell everyone that's our paid attendance," Carbray said last week. "But what's the point? If people come to a game free maybe they'll have a good time and pay their way in the next time.

"Our first job is to get the people out here. A lot of people in this town don't even know where RFK Stadium is. That's been a real problem. Next year, every piece of material we print going to have a map showing people how to get here."

Thus far, enough people have found their way to RFK this year to give the Dips a home attendance average of more than 11,500. Carbray claims the paid figure is close to 7,000 a game.

The 11,500 figure ranks Washington eighth in the league in attendance. Connecticut and Hawaii are at the bottom of the league with averages of a little better than 4,000 per game.

While the Diplomats have kept their attendance in five figures by constant promotion, special discounts and giveaways, the Cosmos found a much simpler solution.

For approximately $7 million, they signed Pele, considered the greatest player in history. For another $4 million, the Cosmos signed Giorgio Chinaglia, the Italian idol and scoring star, and Franz Beckenbauer, who led West Germany to the World Cup in 1974.

"The first thing we have to do is sell the game," said Ahmet Ertegun, proesident of the COsmos. "There's no better way to do that than by putting the best players in the world on the field.

"Foreign stars are important right now. We need to appeal to the different ethnic groups because there aren't enough American fans yet. Eventually most of the players will be American, but the time hasn't come yet.

"I think the teams in Los Angeles and Dallas are crazy not to have some Mexican players. Washington should have some more blacks or Africans. Minnesota should get some Scandinavian players."

There are varying opinions on Ertegun's theory. He has been criticized on numerous occasions for blatantly grabbing for ethnic fans. He doesn't deny the charge, which further enrages his critics.

"We've been knocked in the press a lot this season," he said. "But I'd rather by in the paper and get knocked than have no one pay any attention.When people read about you and see you, they identify with you."

Carbray disagrees with Ertegun's philosophy on ethnics. He believes that going after the ethnic fan may eliminate other groups that will eventually be larger.

"When I first came here (last fall), I thought the first group we had to get on our side were soccer people. We got in touch with all the local soccer groups - youth groups, women's groups, everyone - and told them we were at their service. We would help them out any way any time," said Carbray.

"If people who are in soccer don't love us, then we're dead. We had to start there and I feel we've done well in that area. Now we have to move on."

In Seattle, they have already moved on.The Sounders, in their fourth year of existence, held the NASL attendance record until the Cosmos and Kicks broke it this year. They were one of the league-s first success stories.

"From the very beginning, we've tried to appeal to as many different kinds of people as possible," said Brian Runnels, who is in charge of marketing for the club. "We've tried to make the fans part of the team. We've had the players enter through the stands passing out flowers to the women. We've had "guess-the-goal" contests. We opened practice to the public and over 10,000 kids showed up.

"If you try just to appeal to one group, whether its kids, adults, women or ethnics, you're cutting down on your potential audience. If you have a million people in your area, you have to try and appeal to a million people.

"That doesn't mean we don't do things to appeal to certain groups. If we can't get the ethnic groups to come out and watch our team we know we probably can't get anyone out.

"The kids and the young adults are the future, we know that. But you need parents to bring the kids. You need everyone. We're trying to make our appeal as broad as possible."

In Washington, Carbray and the Diplomats have concentrated on the young audience! They have sent their "mascot," Big Mike, and the Honey Dips to bars around town to give away tickets to young couples who are dancing and socializing.

They have staged a youth parade prior to every game, putting youngsters on the field while the players are introduced. Thousands of youngsters have participated. And, as Runnels points out, someone has to bring the kids.

"We have to make people think soccer all year round," Carbray siad. "When the season is over, we can't just fold up and disappear until April. We have to continue to promote and push the team. We're going to give out season-ticket brochures at The Cosmos' game.

"During the offseason, we'll be running camps and clinics. We'll have about 10 players remaining in the area to make speeches and appearances. We'll give out bumper stickers and pennants. Anything. Everything! We have to have people thinking soccer."

Carbray is also hoping that, like The Cosmos, the Diplomats can have all their road games televised next season. Ertegun believes that has been an enormous boost for his franchise.

"TV keeps the fans in touch with the players and the team at all times," he said. "If they're on the road for a while, they can still watch all the games. It also gives you legitimacy.

"The more exposure we get, whether it's good or bad, the better. In two or three years, everyone in this league can have the kind of success we have had. It is just a matter of working harder and harder."

All around the NASL they are working hard. At the end of this season, there will be more franchises folding and more shifts. But there will also be new teams and attendance will continue to increase.

The Minnesota Kicks became the sports success story of the year in their first season in 1976. They won their division with a 15-9 mark, the Pacific Conference title and a berth in the Soccer Bowl versus the Toronto Metros. The Kicks eventually lost, 3-0, but the raod to the game is a story unmatched in professional sports.

A lack of faith or perhaps an error in judgment may have been the best mistake the young club could have made. In their 1976 opener, the stadium opened a minimum of windows and thousands of soccer fans converged on the ticket sellers. With just a few minutes left before game time, the club owners opened the gates to admit most of the 30,000-plus fans free. The Kicks went on to average more than 25,000 fans per game last season.

The goal is the same all over: Get the people to watch you. Only the methods used to achieve that goal is different.

"If you get a guy to see three soccer games in the right atmosphere, you'll hook him on the game, no question about it," said Carbray. "Our job now is to get the people out here and give him the right atmosphere. We have to entertain the fans. We know we have to win, but we also know we have to get people out here to watch us."