For openers, Baltimore is hit at the gate


How gate receipts are disbursed in the Canadian Football League, when it comes to how much the home team keeps and what the opposition takes away, is a concept with a new and different kind of financial twist. It's 90 percent for the host, 10 percent for the visitor.

Since the gross gate for the Baltimore CFLs' first game at Memorial Stadium reached $630,000, as represented by a paid crowd of 39,202, it means the visiting Calgary Stampeders will receive in round numbers, after taxes and stadium rent, about $50,000. The home team keeps the rest.

Actually, the financial settlement, handled by the league office, doesn't occur on a game-by-game basis, as is customary in the NFL, but is tallied at the end of the schedule.

Last season, the home team/visitor breakdown was 80-20, but according to CFL commissioner Larry Smith, this "is a test year to see how 90-10 works." Concessions and parking fees go to the home club and don't have to be shared.

This contrasts considerably from the way the NFL conducts business, where the visitor receives 40 percent of the gross receipts. The NFL once had a $25,000 guarantee for the road team but this became passe when game revenues climbed to stratospheric heights. For NFL exhibitions, it's a 50-50 split after taxes and stadium rental have been "taken off the top."

Jim Speros, owner of the Baltimore CFLs, confirmed the gross gate Saturday with Calgary came to $630,000. Income from concessions was $311,000. Although close to $1 million gross is an excellent showing, Speros is aware that salaries for players, coaches, front office and other expenses need to be controlled.

The break-even point in crowd count for the Baltimore franchise, according to Speros, is to average 22,500 for the nine home games. This is the same figure he projected when the team opened for business in mid-February. His main fiscal responsibility is to establish stability.

Asked what his 1994 income, from all sources, had to be, for the team to be successful, he mentioned $5.8 million. The team salary cap, as pertaining to 37 active roster players and two on the reserve list, is $1.9 million. Player contracts average around $60,000.

Income from the league's television contract with the Canadian Broadcasting Company amounts to $550,000 per club with other money coming from ESPN. Individual radio-TV deals by the teams, such as Baltimore, may approach $400,000.

Speros has done an excellent marketing job, along with finding a receptive audience, and sincerely wants to please the customers. With such an approach, he can hardly fail. The Rev. Louis Micca of St. Jude's Shrine attended the CFL opener and, expressing what amounts to general reaction, said, "I like Jim Speros; as far as I can see he's doing everything right."

As for a final count on season ticket sales, Speros says they are "just shy of 25,800." After three more home games -- one Saturday night against Shreveport and two in August -- are played, he's going to offer a season ticket plan for the last five games. It could be marketed as the "second season" -- coming in the more conventional football months, for U.S. consumers, of September, October and November.

Another vital aspect in getting things done and bringing an expansion team to the point of gaining acceptability is the way the corporate community has provided support, approaching $1 million in either cash or barter.

The result is that the team has been the recipient of both money and services in exchange for advertising. It's called a trade-off.

The corporate coin toss, where a prominent businessman, who has helped the team, gets to make the flip from the center of the field, featured Henry Rosenberg of Crown Central Petroleum Corp., at the opening game. Bruning Paint, Standard Carpet, Hechinger's, Zenith and York Barbell entered into reciprocal arrangements while other companies took paid advertisements.

It's interesting to note the CFL opening attendance exceeded the number that turned out for the Baltimore Colts' first game ever -- the All-America Conference debut in 1947 and also the inaugural NFL Colts crowds in both 1950 and, after a two-year suspension, the gathering in 1953.

The 39,202 likewise surpassed what turned out to be the Colts' farewell, in 1983. The count on that infamous afternoon amounted to a modest 27,934, an occasion when the crowd, generally misinformed by a media that created backing for Curtis Dickey's salary demands, cheered his presence and demeaned

owner Robert Irsay with booming vulgarity for not wanting to give a less-than-average-ball-carrier his asking price.

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