But the Cavaliers are playing much better this season just the same, and the perennially upbeat Mileti can find other causes for cheer. WWWE, unprofitable when he bought it, is in the black. The money-losing Barons were scrapped after moving to Jacksonville, and Mileti hopes the local school board will take the Cleveland Arena off his hands. And although Mileti cannot claim much of the credit, prospects have brightened for the Indians: a pennant contender much of last season, they drew one million fans for the first time in 15 years and their deficit fell from $1.5 million to $350,000.
As for the all-important Coliseum, those who predict it will flop tend to be the same people who reckoned Mileti would never get the building up in the first place. To do so, the ex-cheerleader laughed at tight money, brushed aside court challenges by environmentalists and thumbed his nose at Cleveland's business Establishment, which wanted the Coliseum downtown.
The semi-rural location defies the widely held assumption that indoor sports complexes must be situated near public transit and population centers. Still, the site is handy to freeways, and Mileti has his eye on all of Coliseum Country. "In Cleveland we'd have Lake Erie at our back," he says. "Out here we've got five million people within a 50-mile radius."
Early-season crowds at the Coliseum for the Crusaders and Cavaliers have been bigger than they were at the Arena, but still disappointingly below the pergame averages—12,000 and 9,000 respectively—needed to begin showing profits. Attendance was unquestionably hurt by a seven-week newspaper strike that ended just before Christmas, and Mileti is encouraged that 1974-75 bookings for such major attractions as rock concerts and ice shows total nearly 170—to say nothing of the coup he hopes to bring off: a March fight between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner. Spectators have oohed and aahed over such amenities as upholstered chairs and two telescreens for instant replay, not to mention unobstructed sight lines. There are also 96 loge suites, private 10-seat boxes that go for $11,000-plus a year. Mileti claims to have found takers, mostly large corporations, for them all.
Not long ago the Cleveland Press' Bob August wrote of Mileti, "Even a master juggler can get too many oranges in the air." Mileti responded with a touch of humor: "I'll tell the papers what to print when I own them." In fact, Cleveland's No. 1 sports entrepreneur suffers such unsolicited advice well. One evening he and several friends were having a sociable time in a suburban bar when a blond, eager-eyed young man approached their table. "Remember me?" the stranger demanded. "I met you in here last year."
"Nice to see you again," Mileti said noncommittally.
The young man's view of Mileti apparently corresponded with that of Bob August. "If you're smart, Nick, you'll sell the Tribe," he said.
"You really think so?" Mileti asked playfully.
"I sure do."
Mileti beamed. "Then it's settled. I'll do it."