Sonny Werblins's threat to move or sell the Washington Diplomats unless fan support improves by the end of next season came as no surprise to team personnel, players or fans interviewed yesterday.
"He's talking business sense and I can understand that," said Washington defender Mike Dillon. "If I wass in charge, I'd think the same way."
"We've been here long enough to have better attendance, especially at home," said Jim Steele, the team captain. "I'm not surpised he's considering taking the team somewhere else. Most of the lads on the team are getting fed up anyway. It seems we've done hundreds of clinics for nothing.
"The people who have come out have been great. I'd really feel sorry for them if we left. Of course the players won't suffer because to us it's a job. If the man who pays you says you're moving, you move."
Werblin, president of Madison Square Garden, which purchased the Diplomats last year, said Sunday he had hoped the team would average 18,000 fans this season. Instead the average has been 10, 919 for nine home games.
"All things considered, I feel we've done a lot of positive things here," said Andy Dolich, the team's director of marketing. "Sure we've got a long way to go and it won't happen overnight. We have to make our product attractive to the people."
While Washington has not shown any significant improvement in the turnstile count over the last three years, its dollar production has doubled.
"That is the encouraging factor. We've taken in more money and that's the bottom line," said Washington General Manager John Carbray. "We've in no different situation than 75 percent of the clubs in the league. You take out the top and bottom teams and we're right where soccer is in this country."
"It's what I've been telling people in Annandale the last two months," said Everett Germain , president of the Annandale Boys and Girls Club and a longtime supporter of local soccer. "You keep a team by supporting it. Don't cry if we lose them. I'm not surprised at Weblin's statement. It's logical business."
"You can't intimidate people in Washington into coming out to the games," said one fan, Linda Twitty, an employe at St. Elizabeths Hospital. "I've been to couple of games because I was curious and was interested in learning the game of soccer. I certainly won't go back because someone threatened to move the team. I'll go because I want to go and when I want to go; it's as simple as that."
The Garden signed a five-year lease with two five-year options with the Armony Board for the use of RFK Stadium. Armory Board General Manager Robert Sigholtz said if the Diplomats attempted to break the contract, "the board would have to meet and decide what action to take.
"Our relations with Dips have been terrific and there have been no problems at all. I can understand Mr. Werblin's disappointment but I know the Dips are doing everything they can to market the team.
"I don't know what would happen if the team decided to leave. I don't recall any soccer team ever being sued for breaking a contract. Usually because of financial problems, both parties would agree it's best and part with a mutual consent."
Many fans feel pulling the team out would be an injustice to the loyal supporters who have backed the team the past six years.
"We need this team here," said Paula Sabo, president of the Diplomats' booster club. "It's a great family social affair. Everyone here feels close to the players and the players are close to us. I hope the people take this as a serious threat and start to come out to the games."
Sylvia McPherson, president of Montgomery Soccer Inc., said the key to the Dips' success is to attract young adults.
"It takes adult interest and that's going to take time," said McPherson. "And time is something I'm not sure we'll get. I'm afraid too many adults will read this story and say, 'So what, who needs it?'
"I had a feeling it might come to this soon. They are an organization that is not home-grown and oriented; only interested in turning a profit."
With only six home games remaining, including Wednesday night's match against the Edmonton Drillers, it is highly unlikely the Dips can pull their average even close to 18,000.
"If we get good weather and we continue to do well, there's no reason why we shouldn't get some good crowds," said Washington Coach Gordon Bradley. "I think Mr. Werblin is being a little premature. I believe the people will come out and see us. Just give us a little time."