It is more than two months before Team America is due to face Tulsa in its North American Soccer League home opener at RFK Stadium, but General Manager Beau Rogers is already feverishly forming the organization he hopes can save the club from the financial collapse experienced by Washington's four previous professional soccer franchises.
"We should have started in October," said Rogers, who only this month began working in earnest on a plan to put fans in the stadium. The hastily put-together team concluded its two-week training camp in Tampa, Fla., Saturday and is due in Washington today.
At a press conference this afternoon, Coach Alkis Panagoulias will introduce 15 of the players already chosen for the team, including former Washington Diplomats Sonny Askew and Tony Crescitelli and Rob Olson of Fairfax County. Five positions on the roster are being held for players currently playing in the Major Indoor Soccer League, whose season is in progress.
Following this afternoon's press conference, the players will spend three or four days in town looking for places to stay and will then have about two weeks off before resuming practice here. The team has leased a practice field near RFK Stadium, but it's possible that practices could be moved to a suburban location.
An exhibition tour of the Carribean and South America is likely before Team America's NASL season begins April 23 in Seattle.
"This team is different from any other team in the league because it is the U.S. national team in training. There is a national feel for the team as well as a strong local identity," said Rogers. "If we were just another franchise, the chances of its working would be slim, at best. I'm convinced it will be a success or I wouldn't have taken it on."
With a squad composed of native-born and naturalized U.S. citizens playing in the NASL, the Major Indoor Soccer League and the American Soccer League, Team America is hoping American fans will be able to identify more easily with its players than with those on other NASL teams, many of which are dominated by Europeans and South Americans.
"We're going to spend a lot of time and energy developing and promoting personalities on the team," said Jeff Wagner, who will be Team America's vice president for sales and marketing.
"With an all-American team, you can do that. Some of the other players don't relate to the community that well," said Wagner, who most recently was director of marketing with ProServe, the sports promotion and marketing conglomerate headed by Donald Dell.
"We're going to use the players as much as we can. We're going to make sure they are very involved with the community, clinics with the youth soccer leagues, but not just the youth soccer leagues. Our players will do a lot of the promoting of the team.
"For 10 years, everybody has been saying soccer is it, but it has never quite made it. Now all those 7- and 8-year-olds who were just starting soccer 10 and 15 years ago are having a little discretionary income. We're going to be after those players who grew up with soccer."
As the U.S. national team, Team America will play a schedule of international matches during the NASL offseason, will compete in the Olympics, if rules permit, and will attempt to qualify for the World Cup in 1986.
Rogers is hoping that because it is the national team, Team America can persuade major U.S. corporations to sign up as sponsors, in effect purchasing rights to use the team's name and logo in advertising and promotional campaigns. Budweiser and R.J. Reynolds are two companies already reported to have agreed to such an arrangement.
One of the original owners and former general manager of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Rogers, 45, has worked with NASL franchises in Memphis, Fort Lauderdale and San Jose. He was a marketing consultant to the Queen's Park Rangers team in Britain when NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam asked him to take the Team America job.
He says he plans an aggressive advertising campaign--estimated by sources to cost between $300,000 and $400,000--beginning in the next few weeks to spur ticket sales, and he already has the team's vice president for operations, David Ross, meeting with representatives of youth soccer leagues in the area to promote the team. Ross, who worked in the front office of the Diplomats, was assistant general manager of the San Jose Earthquakes before joining Team America.
"It's my feeling that the support from the youth soccer programs, as well as from the senior amateur players, will be tremendous," says Mavis Derflinger, regional commissioner for the U.S. Youth Soccer Association. "With this team, American kids will have a role model to look up to. I'll be very disappointed if they let me down."
Rogers, who has developed a reputation around the NASL as a flamboyant promoter, says he plans to supplement games with a variety of attractions, including concerts by such entertainers as the Beach Boys or Crystal Gayle. "No acid rock, though," he said.
"We're in the entertainment business, and we've got a product to sell. We've got to get people out who haven't been out before, and they've got to have a good time when they get there," said Rogers.
Tickets will be priced at $10 for mezzanine seats, $7 for adult reserved seats and $4 for children 16 and under and senior citizens. Season-ticket holders will get 15 games for the price of 13. If they miss one game, they can exchange unused tickets for another game.
During the season, advertising and promotional efforts will focus on "whatever is current," according to Dave Abramson of Abramson Associates, the team's advertising agency. "We'll put the bucket out when it's raining," said Abramson.