The University of Maryland thinks fans of the Redskins and Baltimore Colts shouldn't waste this weekend lamenting the NFL strike.
The school's athletic department has embarked upon a newspaper advertising campaign targeted at attracting professional football fans to Maryland's home opener Saturday against North Carolina State at Byrd Stadium.
"I would hope the Redskins' and Colts' season ticket-holders would be starved enough for live action this weekend to direct their attention to College Park," Dick Dull, Maryland's director of athletics, said this week. "We don't want to exploit the NFL strike, because it is unfortunate. But we do want to make it clear to pro football fans that college football is alive and well."
Maryland is expecting approximately 35,000 for Saturday's 1:30 game, about 10,000 short of Byrd Stadium's capacity. But if the ad campaign attracts more fans to the stadium, Maryland will be one of several beneficiaries of the strike.
College football appears to have the most to gain from the NFL strike; not just from gate receipts, but from the millions of dollars schools stand to gain if the television networks switch some games from Saturday to Sunday. Many schools, however, have said that moving games is not in the best interests of college football.
It appears very unlikely that a college game will be played this Sunday. But the longer the NFL strike lasts, the greater the probability of Sunday college games, NCAA sources say.
The United States Football League could also benefit, in ticket sales. But several league officials said they see no direct long-term benefits for the new league. The professional basketball and hockey seasons are too far away to determine any possible benefits for those sports. And baseball officials, concentrating on the upcoming playoffs and World Series games, believe people will watch no matter what.
Jim Gould, president of the USFL Washington Federals, said the franchise sold about 50 season tickets last Friday.
"About 50 or 60 people came in off the street Friday and Saturday and said, 'We don't want to be locked out of RFK Stadium all year. We don't want to miss out on football for the whole year.' The strike has served as a catalyst to get potential tickets buyers to move quicker," Gould said. "I never thought I'd see this rush until December or January. But any benefit would be only short term.
"A long strike," Gould continued, "will hurt us, too. Depending on the duration of the strike, it could hurt the relationship professional football has with fans. We (both leagues) are selling the same product -- football. If the Redskins aren't playing well, or aren't playing at all, people here don't feel comfortable about football in general."
George Allen, an owner and head coach of the Chicago Blitz, said yesterday the strike won't benefit his team or the league unless it lasts all season. "But I don't look for a long strike," Allen told the Associated Press.
Chet Simmons, USFL commissioner, said in a prepared statement: "We do not feel the strike has any beneficial effect, short or long term, on the USFL. We recognize that all the players who are on strike are still under contract to the NFL and the USFL will not in any way interfere with the contractual relationship between the NFL and its players."
Hank Peters, general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, said he expects no benefits for baseball because there is such little overlap in the sports' regular seasons.
"We've only got four more home dates," Peters said. "So it won't effect Oriole fan interest. And the World Series and playoffs are attractions all their own."
The shape of college football's traditional week could change if the networks convince some schools to play on Sundays while the strike is on.
Bo Coppedge, athletic director at the Naval Academy, said yesterday he thinks a lot of schools will switch. "They say no now," Coppedge said, "but give them a couple of weeks. It (the strike) will help us a lot if the media will give colleges some exposure and not just talk about what Joe the Pro is doing now that he's not playing football."
Currently, a regional television appearance is worth about $300,000 to each school and a network appearance brings each approximately $700,000. Sunday telecasts would probably be worth a lot more to the networks.