The owner of the Washington Diplomats, Madison Square Garden Corp., lost between $1 million and $1.5 million on the team during 1979, according to Jack Krumpe, MSG vice president.
Krumpe, who refused to make any commitment on the future of the soccer team, made it clear during a two-hour interview last weekend that if the Dips do not show marked improvement in attendance and finances, the upcoming season will be the club's last in Washington.
"I would certainly hope we can cut our losses by a third to a half this season," Krumpe, second to MSG President Sonny Werblin in the Garden hierarchy, said. "I think that means we have to average between 15,000 and 20,000 paid per game" -- as opposed to 10,000 paid per game in 1979. "If we don't do that, I don't know what will happen. In business, if you decide you've made a mistake you try to cut losses and get out."
It seems likely that Gulf and Western, which owns Madison Square Garden, would consider a second consecutive year of losses greater than $1 million too costly and would urge Werblin and Krumpe to move the team.
During the interview, Krumpe discussed a wide range of topics connected with the Diplomats.
On Kevin Keegan, the English superstar who is currently playing with Hamburg in the West German league: A year ago, the Dips nearly signed Keegan and reports from Europe had Keegan coming here for the 1980 season.
That seems unlikely. Because of commitments in Europe, most notably the fact that he is captain of the English World Cup team, Keegan could play no more than half the season here. That apparently does not interest the Garden group.
"It makes us less interested," Krumpe said. "That doesn't mean we're not still talking."
Recruiting for the 1980 season: "I'd like to see our team have more of an elegant Latin flavor this season," Krumpe said. "When (Coach) Gordon Bradley goes to South America in a couple of weeks, he'll have orders to come back with three or four players who can score like hell."
Will Bradley have an open checkbook? Krumpe was asked. "He'll have an open checkbook as long as we feel the player is worth the money being asked for."
Which means that, like last year, when Garden management balked at the asking price of Argentinian World Cup champion Daniel Passarella, Bradley could be told no after negotiating with a player.
"Passarella would have cost well over $2 million for five years," Krumpe said. "We just didn't think we should make that kind of investment."
MSG's philosophy on how to run the Diplomats: Throughout last season, Krumpe said he and Werblin had not decided whether the Dips should be developed as a world-class team, like the Cosmos, or strictly as an NASL team. Now, they have decided -- the Dips will be essentially just an NASL team.
"World tours aren't what they used to be," Krumpe said. "They aren't going to make money for you the way they may once have.
"Essentially, we will be an NASL team. That means we want to have an exciting team that is going to sell tickets.Because the way the league is set up right now, the way you make your money is on those 16 home games during the regular season."
The team's marketing approach: For the past three seasons, the Dips have tried to appeal almost exclusively to suburban fans, believing that was where soccer interest here lies.
Now, with Mayor Marion Barry on the D.C. Armory Board and having played a major role in bringing next year's Soccer Bowl to RFK Stadium, that approach will change.
"I think we have to try and appeal more to people from the District," Krumpe said. "I think we've been wrong in the past just working on suburban appeal. We have to bring the city out."
Krumpe said that the feeling of Garden management now is, "that our first perception of Washington when we bought the team a year ago was incorrect, especially in terms of who we have to appeal to in order to fill seats."
Front office changes:
The firing of John Carbray as general manager and Steve Rankin as publicity director and the decision to change advertising agencies are clearly designed to change the team's marketing approach and its public relations image.
"We didn't really look at it that way when we made the changes but that may be the way things have worked out," Krumpe said. "We want an aggressive marketing approach."
Krumpe said the Diplomats grossed about $600,000 in gate receipts in 1979 while carrying a player payroll of close to $900,000. The club also spent several hundred thousand dollars purchasing players. He said the team spent about $350,000 on advertising last year and expects to spend in that neighborhood again this season. There were also expenses for front-office personnel, travel, etc.
"We're going to go all out again this year just like last year," Krumpe said. "We're going to try and be first class in every way, on the field and in the front office. If we don't see improvement after offering a first-class product, then we'll have to sit down and consider our options.
"I expect our team to average about 18,000 fans paid a game this season and I expect the team to go through at least two rounds of the playoffs and, with a little luck, have a chance to win it all."
As for the players who will be wearing Washington uniforms this season: "Purchasing players in the world market isn't easy. A guy like Keegan can get more for playing three exhibition games in Saudi Arabia than he can playing a season for us.
"It's an extremely competitive market. And with the dollar being devalued during the past five years, it's even tougher. But we're looking to sign some top players. It may not be Keegan or Passarella but they'll be excellent players.
"I want Gordon to continue to be as organized as he's always been as a coach and continue to have the great defense. But I also want to see us score a lot. I want the team to be a winner and I want it to be exciting for the fans."
In other words, if Bradley has one order when he sets out on his recruiting trips this winter, it will be a simple one: bring back players who will put the ball in the net.
Krumpe added that he disagreed with the league's philosophy of making its year-to-year planning based on a long-range plan drawn up several years ago that assumed that a soccer explosion in this country was inevitable.
"I don't think you can make plans for the future until you have a base from which to plan from," he said. "Right now, the most important and critical year for the NASL is 1980."
The same is true for the Diplomats.