BETWEEN THE LINES
The Washington Redskins recently announced a rise in ticket prices of from 12.5% to 22%. The average seat in Robert F. Kennedy Stadium next year will cost $11.28, with a top price of $18, easily the highest in the league. In an explanatory letter to season-ticket holders, management pointed out that the fans must pay the price of continued success, that achieving four consecutive playoff appearances costs money. The letter also mentions last year's player strike, increased operating costs and inflation. "Unfortunately," it goes on, "with a fixed and inadequate stadium capacity, the only true source left to us is a ticket price increase."
At the bottom of Washington's financial woes are the carefree spending habits of Coach George Allen, which alarmed Redskin owners are beginning to restrain. But the single item on the Redskin balance sheet that most clearly made the difference between finishing the year in the red instead of the black had nothing to do with Allen. Washington fans deserve to know how that item relates to the increase in ticket prices.
Pro Football, Inc., the corporate name of the Redskins, was originally comprised of 1,000 shares. The shares held first by the late C. Leo DeOrsey, then by the late Vince Lombardi, were retired upon Lombardi's death. Last year an additional 430 shares, representing the estate of the late George Marshall, founder of the Redskins, were also retired. To pay off the beneficiaries of these blocks of shares, loans had to be taken out that are now estimated to cost the Redskins almost $1 million a year in interest. Remove that one item from the balance sheet and the Redskins made a profit in 1974.
Why retire the stock when the cost is so high? Well, here's a possible explanation. The 250 shares owned by Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the L.A. Lakers and Kings, which previously represented only 25% ownership of the Redskins, will now, with the DeOrsey-Lombardi-Marshall shares retired, represent 72% and controlling interest. The 10% owned by the other two shareholders, Edward Bennett Williams, president and chief administrative officer, and Milton W. King, an attorney who is vice-president and treasurer, will become 28%.
Although it was understandably omitted from the letter to ticket holders, the fact is that Cooke and Co. are, in effect, asking the fans to buy the team for them. Maybe Redskin fans won't care. But the warning of the marketplace is still caveat emptor, and it does seem that the emptors in this case ought to know what they're really buying.
Setting out to break down the barriers of indifference that stood between the Berkeley student body and his beloved team, University of California Baseball Coach Jackie Jensen donned a sandwich board one day last week and strolled through the campus talking to people. Coming and going his message was the same: BASEBALL GAME TODAY, 2:30, EVANS FIELD.
"It was embarrassing at first," says Jensen, star of Cal's 1949 Rose Bowl team and the American League's MVP in 1958, "but it was no worse than facing a major league fastball pitcher and there was no other way to get the message across. We have a good team."
Jensen's campaign was a smash. Bay Area pundits even likened him to one of San Francisco's long line of lovable eccentrics, a multimillionaire known as Foghorn Murphy, who in the 1920s used to ride a white horse up the middle of Market Street, bellowing, "Play ball, play ball."