In Kansas City, Dave Smith's phone has rung frequently the last few months. "I'm getting calls all the time from NFL teams, wanting to know what we are doing to sell tickets," said Smith, the Chiefs' director of marketing.
In Anaheim, the Rams are running newspaper ads promoting tickets while hoping a new coach, John Robinson, will give them an edge in their battle for National Football League fans with the Los Angeles-based Raiders.
In Baltimore, the Colts have kept their ticket office open during some preseason games, hoping the team's improved play will encourage fans to go for readily available season tickets.
In Cleveland, the Browns loaded the offseason with free clinics for youths and coaches, trying to rebuild goodwill--and ticket sales--hurt by the 1982 players' strike.
Around the league, the image of the NFL as the toughest ticket in sports is faltering. The Redskins' situation in Washington (a string of sellouts, a long waiting list for season tickets) is the exception. In almost any other league city, you can walk up to the gate and purchase a seat on game day.
"Our people should be concerned about the ticket situation in the league," said Smith, one of the NFL's few marketing specialists. "You look at those (NFL Players Association) all-star games last fall.
"They had 2,000 people and there was no sound. As important as television is, you've got to have fans. Without excitement generated by fans in the stands, the game's not the same."
Certainly, many NFL teams are dusting off publicity and marketing ideas that, for years, have not been needed. For the most part, if a club was reasonably successful, ticket sales took care of themselves. The glamor and special appeal of pro football lured the fans.
That appeal still may exist. There is no question that, for the most part, franchises are healthy and their fans loyal.
But after the 57-day strike, a string of drugs stories and some rough economic times, the NFL is anxious this season to see if ticket buyers will return with the record-stimulating gusto of past years.
"We think there still is an attitude by the fan that says, a pox on both your houses because of the strike," said Kevin Byrne, who headed the Browns' offseason sales push that concentrated on getting players into the community. "A lot of people just didn't have much sympathy for $100,000 athletes or for the people who pay them. We spent a lot of time trying to change that attitude."
Cleveland sold 44,000 season tickets, a 2,000 drop from 1982. Although working from a healthy base, the Browns still are trying to fill an 80,322-seat stadium, third largest in the league.
"The problem with any team in a large stadium is the fan knows he shouldn't have any trouble buying a ticket the week of a game," said Byrne.
St. Louis likewise has a decent base (36,000) but even with a winning record and playoff team last season, the Cardinals are facing a 4,000 drop in season ticket sales.
Team officials can point to only one reason: fan fallout from the strike.
At least four clubs, Buffalo, Baltimore, Kansas City and New England, have big season ticket problems. All have fallen below the 30,000 mark, with Buffalo and Baltimore barely above 20,000 each.
"We've been in worse shape, we've had as few as 18,000 season tickets," said Buffalo Vice President Budd Thalman. "This area has had it rough economically. But we really haven't done that much extra to push tickets. If we play well, we'll get the fans. The last four or five years, we've had the lowest season ticket base in the league, but in 1980, we had the second-highest attendance. Sometimes, we'll sell 15,000 seats the day of the game."
Kansas City closed the 1982 season with only 11,902 customers in Arrowhead Stadium (capacity: 78,067). The Chiefs hired a new coach, John Mackovic, who is jazzing up their offense. And Smith, the marketing man, forged ahead.
"We have two approaches, telemarketing and group sales," Smith said. "We have to be aggressive because of the size of our stadium, the size of the market (second smallest in the NFL) and our recent won-lost record. We'll reach out as far as 200 miles, into Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa."
Smith has found that Chiefs fans don't buy tickets the day of the game. So the team has made it easy to purchase seats early by increasing the number of outlets in outlying areas. The club mailed 3 million schedule cards and has an aggressive group sales program.
"We visited 45 cities, trying to get maximum exposure," said Smith.
Unlike the Chiefs, the Rams lie within a huge market. But now they have to share it with the Raiders. Despite a belated start selling 1983 tickets because of an extensive front office turnover, the Rams are spending $20,000 for season ticket promotion (a franchise first) and $16,000 for radio and television advertising, twice the 1982 expenditure. They sent brochures, with Robinson featured prominently, to 146,000 families with incomes of $25,000 or more. Still, season ticket sales have dropped from 60,000 in 1981 to about 49,000 this year. And Les Marshall, who was the team's marketing director, resigned last week.
The Raiders, accustomed to sellouts in Oakland, have sold only about 40,000 season tickets. With the court fights over their move to Los Angeles, the Raiders' image in southern California is not without damage. And who knew where they would be playing either of the last two seasons?