"How many did the Federals draw to their opening game?" asked Jeff Wagner, the vice president for marketing and sales for Team America, Washington's newest soccer team. "Was it 38,010? We'd like 38,011 at least."
With just over three weeks until Team America, Washington's latest franchise in the North American Soccer League, opens its home season May 8 against the Tulsa Roughnecks at RFK Stadium, Wagner is organizing an elaborate marketing campaign. He hopes it will springboard the franchise to a better fate than what befell Washington's four previous professional soccer teams.
"You could almost say Team America owes Jim Watt a commission check," said Wagner, who arranged for a June 12 postgame RFK Stadium concert by the Beach Boys, several weeks before the interior secretary's recent comments on the Beach Boys drew nationwide publicity.
Within a few days after Watt's now-celebrated remarks that the Beach Boys drew "the wrong element" to the July 4 celebration on the Mall two years ago, Team America had Beach Boys lead singer Mike Love in town to promote the June 12 concert, which will follow a game with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
"We're talking fun, fun, fun, we're talking good vibrations, we're talking Team America soccer," said Love at the Sunday press conference. Wagner says he'll use that quote in promotional material for the team. "We got nationwide coverage on the Beach Boys. We've got calls coming in from all over."
In the best tradition of preseason optimism, Team America, which comprises the U.S. national team in training for the World Cup, is aiming for sellouts on the Beach Boys date as well as two home contests with the New York Cosmos, June 17 and Aug. 10, and two as yet unscheduled games against international competition. Team America opens the season April 23 against the host Seattle Sounders.
"Aside from those games, a good number (to average per game) would be 25,000 to 30,000, a little less, maybe on weekday nights, a little more on the weekends," said Wagner.
"About 50 percent of our traffic will be generated through group sales," said Wagner, and "about 80 to 85 percent of those groups will be soccer groups."
With anywhere between 75,000 and 125,000 participants in Washington area youth soccer programs, Team America has a rich lode to mine and its representatives are offering a variety of options to the youth leagues.
In exchange for a promise to sell at least 500 tickets to one game, some of the leagues are being offered a special night at which their own teams can play on the RFK field for up two hours before the Team America game. Another package, in exchange for a promise to sell 200 season tickets, involves a postseason date when Team America will place itself at the disposal of the youth league, for an exhibition game, soccer clinic, fund-raising dinner or some other soccer-related activity.
For the most part, such overtures have been successful although some groups have complained they were not given sufficient time to act. The Reston Soccer Association, for example, turned down the offer of a special visit from Team America because it did not want to make the commitment for 200 season tickets.
"They (Reston officials) felt it was on such short notice that they couldn't do it," said Jim Lodge, commissioner of the traveling teams for the Reston association. "They (Team America) wanted an answer from us within four days, but we just couldn't get to our people that fast."
Nevertheless, said Lodge, Reston soccer is supporting Team America and may purchase a block of tickets for the June 20 Cosmos game, which is the day before Reston is host to a major international youth tournament with more than 200 teams.
Linda Carroll of the Alexandria Soccer Association said that group will accept the commitment to sell 200 season tickets for Team America. "We're very much excited about Team America and we'd like to have them out here in the fall for a clinic or an exhibition game," she said.
Jerry May, a director of the Bethesda Soccer Club, said his organization has agreed to sell 500 tickets to the July 20 San Diego game, which will be Bethesda Soccer Club night at RFK. The Bethesda club will be entertaining three youth soccer teams from Ireland then, May said, and the pregame activities will be centered on those visits.
Wagner said there will be promotions in conjunction with Safeway, free Metro farecards for some fans who ride Metro to the games, more concerts and fireworks displays.
From corporate sponsors, both local and national, Team America expects to collect at least $2.5 million in sponsorship fees this year, Wagner said.
Advantage International, the sports marketing group that broke off from the Donald Dell-headed agency, ProServ, is soliciting more sponsors, Wagner said.