Although overall attendance is down from 1977, the Washington Diplomats have doubled their paid attendance this season, General Manager John Carbray said yesterday.
The Dips have never made public their paid attendance figures, but Carbray said both paid attendance and the team's gross income are twice what they were a year ago.
Last season the Dips averaged 13,228 fans per game for 13 home dates. This season they are averaging 10,571 for 12 homes dates with three games remaining. The Aug. 2 game with the Cosmos should push the final attendance average to at least 12,000, since a crowd of 35,000 or better is expected.
"Last year the one thing we were trying to do was get some exposure," Carbray said. "We just went out and flooded the community with tickets. Not all of what we did was giving away free tickets but we did have a lot of discounts. "This year we're given away fewer tickets and we've had less discounts although we do still have them. Overall, there may be less people coming but more of the people coming now are paying to get in."
The Dips had about 1,000 season ticket holders in 1977 and according to Carbray, also doubled that figure this season.
Under Carbray's three-year attendance plan, discounts and giveaways will virtually disappear next season. "The only kind of discount we might have is to take a dollar or two off our top-priced ticket," he said. "And I don't expect to be doing too much of that."
Under that plan, ticket prices which stayed the same this season, would remain unchanged. Carbray said his goal for next season, being "realistic," is to draw 15,000 paying customers a game.
He also said that he does not believe it will take a star such as Pele or Franz Beckenbauer to get soccer widely accepted in Washington.
"I think that the average American sports fan isn't really aware of soccer superstars if they aren't Pele or Beckenbauer," he said. "If you look around the league you can see that happening.
"Look at George Best in Los Angeles or Trevor Francis in Detroit. Those are soccer superstars without question. But their teams are not drawing that well at all.
"The thing that will turn things around in Washington is a winner, a team that is driving towards a championship. Because when that happens the media gets turned on and in the long run it's the media which turns the fans on."
Carbray's promotions seek to attract young parents who bring their families. He wants to make soccer a family sport.
"We have a lot of young people playing soccer now and when they grow up and have money they're going to produce good crowds in the future," he said."But right now we haven't yet reached the 35-and-over crowd that controls a lot of the money being spent. We need to do that, too."
Carbray refused to reveal Washington's specific paid attendance figures. "The Bullets and Capitals don't give out paid figures," he said. "Why should we?"