A euphoric Forward
Ade Coker, standing in the middle of the Sockers' dressing room in the San
Diego Sports Arena one night last week, had every reason to be pouring a bottle
of Italian sparkling wine over his head while singing-cum-gurgling a few lines
of Kool & the Gang's Celebration. "Cel-e-brate good times come
About 45 minutes
earlier, Coker had scored the winning goal as the Sockers defeated the
Baltimore Blast 3-1 in the fifth game of their best-of-five playoff for the
championship of the 5-year-old Major Indoor Soccer League.
The final series
betokened good times indeed for indoor soccer. It filled the Sports Arena and
the Baltimore Civic Center to 99% of capacity and wound up before a
relentlessly vocal SRO crowd of 12,948, a San Diego record for indoor soccer.
In all, 10 of the MISL's 24 playoff games sold out, compared to two of 21 last
season. In addition, the MISL's combined regular-season and playoff attendance
had climbed to a record 2.9 million, up nearly 400,000 over a year ago and 8.5
times what the league had drawn in its first season.
By contrast, for
traditional outdoor soccer as played in the 17-year-old NASL, attendance has
eroded steadily from a per-game average high of 14,997 in 1980 to 13,436 last
year. Numbers like those tend to send proponents of the indoor game leaping to
conclusions, like Baltimore Coach Ken Cooper's assertion after Game 5 that
"the future of soccer in America is indoors. I grew up with outdoor soccer
[Cooper is a former English and NASL pro], but now even I find the game too
slow and low-scoring."
But a few yards
down the hall, standing in a rivulet of beer and a mist of ersatz champagne in
the San Diego locker room, Sockers owner Bob Bell was offering the opinion that
the MISL's success suggests that the future of soccer in America lies neither
solely indoors nor strictly outdoors, "but in teams playing both as the
only course that makes economic sense."
In essence. Bell
and his coach, Ron Newman, view indoor soccer as a life-support system for the
The Sockers are
one of only three clubs—the Chicago Sting and Golden Bay Earthquakes are the
others—that are currently members of both the MISL and NASL. In fact, last
season the Sockers competed in and won the championship of an NASL indoor
season. But when that league dropped its indoor program for 1982-83, Bell
quckly put San Diego into the MISL. He claims that the revenue from 24
regular-season indoor home dates plus six playoff games, which, conservatively,
comes to $1.5 million based on total attendance of 263,582 at an average of $6
per ticket, "means that now I only have to average a little more than
10,000 per game outdoors to break even instead of, say, the 20,000 or so I
would have to average if we had revenue from outdoor soccer only." After
claiming losses of $8 million over six years. Bell says he expects his team to
be in the black for the first time following this summer's outdoor play.
Of course, Bell
isn't the only soccer executive with a pocket calculator. NASL President Howard
Samuels has said that his league is seriously considering reentering indoor
soccer in the 1983-84 season, and that if it does, Chicago and Golden Bay might
leave the MISL and play indoors in the NASL.
Bell isn't so
quick to commit San Diego. He sees indoor soccer as so important that the
30-game season being talked about by the NASL is, he says, "not enough. We
may be better off staying in the MISL, which offers a 48-game
By winning the
MISL title, Newman, who's a U.S. resident, became the only coach to win all
four major U.S. pro soccer championships, the others being the NASL outdoors
with Dallas in 1971, the American Soccer League outdoors with Los Angeles in
1976 and the NASL indoors in 1982. "Indoor soccer is a great game that's
riding a wave of popularity," he says. "But we have to remember the
rest of the world still plays outdoors. If we want our kids to compete with the
rest of the world, our best course is to play both indoors and out."