WLAF attendance surpassing early hopes in Europe and Canada


When a torrential rainstorm hit Barcelona, Spain, the nigh before the city was scheduled to play host to the first World League of American Football game on ABC-TV two weeks ago, the owner of the Barcelona Dragons, Josef Maria Figueras, did what he felt was the logical thing.

He called Mike Lynn, the WLAF commissioner, and told him the game should be postponed. He said that soccer games in Spain are postponed in bad weather and he feared if the game were played, only 200 fans might show up.

Lynn then explained that American football games aren't postponed, especially when they're scheduled to be played on network TV in America.

"I felt sorry for him because of all the work his team had done," Lynn said.

Lynn was then stunned when almost 20,000 fans showed up. "It was really remarkable," he said.

Not only did they show up, but they also were enthusiastic, chanting "Ole!" and rooting for the Dragons.

Lynn was even more encouraged when 46,000 showed up in London last week.

Lynn was projecting an average attendance of 15,000 in Europe, which is half what the soccer games draw. He's trying to be cautious, pointing out he's not sure if the initial crowds are a one-game novelty.

But as the league plays its third week of games this weekend, there are indications that the whole idea of trying to bring American football to Europe may not be as risky as many skeptics thought it'd be.

Lynn also has gotten calls from such places as Moscow and Japan asking about franchises for the future, and he talks about having a Pacific rim division anchored in Honolulu.

So far, the league has gotten a warmer reception in Europe and Montreal -- where 53,000 went to the first game -- than it has in the United States, where it still has to overcome the minor-league or developmental image.

Lynn argues it's not a minor league. He says it's just different from the National Football League. It's willing to try new things, including putting microphones on the coaches and quarterbacks, although that has led to some profanity getting on the air.

While the NFL takes itself so seriously that it seems to be trying to take the fun out of the game by banning such things as celebrations after touchdowns and handshakes after games, the WLAF is doing just the opposite.

In the WLAF, fun is in. Celebrations are not only allowed, but also encouraged. And there are no holdouts and no contract hassles because the players sign contracts with the league for $20,000 -- $25,000 for quarterbacks.

It's still too early to know how the league will fare, but the early signs are encouraging.

* When London kicker Phil Alexander showed up at a charity luncheon in full uniform to promote the league, Diana, Princess of Wales, said, "I think I'm underdressed."

* Don't be surprised if NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue bans draft picks from signing with a team before the draft. It's the kind of deal Mark Carrier signed before the Chicago Bears made him the sixth pick in the draft last year. Tagliabue is worried about the antitrust implications of such deals, especially since the draft is likely to face a legal fight when it expires in 1992.

This is the week that Victor Kiam, the New England Patriots owner who is unhappy about his stadium situation, is supposed to be in Baltimore for a meeting with "a friend of a friend." But Herbert Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, is doing his best to distance himself from any impression that Baltimore would try to entice a franchise to move. Belgrad said he doesn't know anything about the meeting, isn't trying to find out anything about it and won't be at it.

* Matt Millen, the Plan B linebacker signed by the Washington Redskins, should make a big impact on the defense because he's the run stopper they haven't had in the middle since Neal Olkewicz retired a year ago.

But he's likely to make coach Joe Gibbs cringe with his off-the-field comments because he's witty and colorful. Gibbs like his players bland and colorless.

While Gibbs has his team an underdog in scrimmages, Millen already has the Redskins in the Super Bowl.

Millen, who has three Super Bowl rings, said last week: "And when we win the Super Bowl this year, I'll have four. Hey, the Redskins should have won last year, they were better than we were [in San Francisco]. I told 'em that after we beat 'em. Both times."

He did everything but guarantee it.

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