The Baltimore Stars would ask you out to the ball game but you probably wouldn't go.
The Stars, the latest arrivals from the U.S. Football League, are already being snubbed in their search for a following in the Washington area. The team surveyed five counties and found that, although Washingtonians might prefer a Stars game to a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, they will not be regulars at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium this spring.
As a result, the team has decided to save its big advertising money here and do most of its selling in Baltimore, where it expects its main following to develop. Instead, the Stars are adopting a tone of polite invitation to lure disinterested District residents to College Park, hoping the defending league champions will sell themselves by their record.
"We anticipate limited fan reaction and turnout from (Washington)," the team's managing general partner, Myles Tanenbaum, said. "Because we're only in College Park for one season and considering the cost of advertising, we can't feel confident that what we advertise has more than a one-year impact. Quite candidly, we can't devote the advertising dollars to get these people to support football in the spring for one season."
Washington fans appear to be disaffected for two reasons: the success of the Redskins and the dismal failure of the Washington Federals, one of the worst franchises in the USFL the last two seasons. In addition, many consider the Stars to be just passing through until they move to Memorial Stadium in Baltimore for the USFL's inaugural fall season in 1986.
The Stars plan to combat the problems in two ways, with reasonable prices and what they hope is a quality product. They are, for what it's worth, defending USFL champions. Season tickets will go for $99 for nine games, and early buyers will get first crack at seats for any postseason games.
"The Federals didn't do such a good job creating interest," the Stars' promotions director, Tim Pearson, said. "The idea is that last year you paid more to see the worst, now you can pay less to see the best."
A trickier proposition is trying to find a market that the Redskins haven't claimed already. The Stars are using a mailing list left by the Federals, conducting a telephone campaign to reinterest the former USFL fans. However, they expect few season subscribers from Washington. Instead, they'll go after the single game buyers.
"There's going to be some interest, but it's a short-term sell," Pearson said. "We're talking about a nice spring day when you can wander out to see a Herschel Walker and some quality football."
One thing the Stars have is plenty of tickets. So far they have 12,132 season ticketholders, but those come almost exclusively from the Baltimore area, even though College Park is nearer Washington. Their goal is 20,000 the first season, which leaves a lot of room in the 45,000-seat stadium.
"What we do have is something not afforded by the Redskins -- seats," Tanenbaum said. "What we're trying to tell people is, 'If you like to leave the stadium with a winner, we're appealing.' "
Charles J. Brotman, a sports publicist in D.C. who advised the Orioles how to draw Washington fans, thinks the Stars have a good chance of pulling in forlorn Redskins followers who can't get seats at RFK Stadium.
The Federals, who have since moved to Orlando, Fla., proved there was a Washington market in their first year, when they had a preseason sale of 20,000, one of the biggest in the league. But their record quickly drove fans off, and the Stars' dilemma is how to make them forget their first impressions of the USFL.
"Availability was the Federals' selling point," Brotman said. "The Stars should be thinking of the 10,000-15,000 people on the Redskins' waiting list. The problem is that there is sort of a wait-and-see attitude, especially since people were disappointed in the Federals."
Another difficulty the Stars face is that they could alienate their Baltimore fans by trying too hard to attract Washingtonians. There is parochial competition between the two cities, and the Stars don't need an identity crisis in a league in which teams swap towns like they do players.
"People in Washingon think of Baltimore as the enemy," Brotman said. "You can't ask them to adopt this team, just to come out and take a look. You say, 'If you can't see the Redskins, come on out and see the best the USFL has to offer.' If they sell the sport instead of the team, they'll be successful."
The Stars' radio, TV and billboard campaign is specifically directed at their new hometown: "Championship Football Returns to Baltimore." In Washington, the ads are low profile, banal announcements of their debut, rather than an effort to ingratiate the team with the city: "The Stars Come Out This Spring."
"We're trying to create a new football tradition in Baltimore, and we have to find something that won't conflict with that," Pearson said. "It's tough when you have to be in two cities at once."
While the Stars might court Washington casually, they won't try to make it a second home.
"We have to view ourselves as the Baltimore Stars, because that's where we are," Tanenbaum said. "We can't just be 'The Stars,' like some teams. We're not going to play that game.
"The bottom line is that it's up to us to put a quality product on the field. That's the best advertisement, to get another championship ring on our finger."