In 1978 Pacific Select was called in to assist in a last-ditch stand to save World Team Tennis. Levine's firm determined that, among other miscalculations, the league had put franchises in the three worst tennis markets (Indianapolis, New Orleans, Cleveland) and none in the three best (Miami, Dallas, Atlanta). "The market was much smaller than they thought," says Levine. "They figured on capturing 30% of the 20 million tennis players in America. They got the heavy tennis players, all right, but only 30% of them had ever seen a live professional match before, and it was like asking them to eat frogs' legs once a week. You have to cultivate a taste for it. They would have in time, but it would have taken five to seven years of hard work and $2 million in losses for each team."
Whither the spoils business in the 1980s? "The big challenge will be to keep the lid on ticket prices," says Levine. "Already we're seeing that households making $15,000 and under can't afford to go to a ball game anymore." A remarkably large number of fans, from 50% to 60% in most markets, haven't attended a game in three years or more.
Curiously, the young adults who will continue to invade the stands in increasing numbers might just as well be watching a cricket match; they are perhaps the least knowledgeable fans ever. "They have little understanding of the nuances of a game," says Levine. "By and large they've been raised in front of a TV set with lots of competition for their interests. They don't get involved in any one sport the way their parents did. They go to a game more for the emotional experience than for giving support."
Fans over 35, the crowd that puts a lot of stock in old-fashioned virtues like loyalty, will be less inclined in the future to make an emotional investment in a team. "The free-agent movement comes at a time when fans are looking for islands of stability in an unstable world," says Levine. "They want to feel, in effect, that they own a piece of the Rock." Thus, when players leave, older fans are just as likely to head for the exits.
The burden of adjustment is on the players. "They are on trial," says Levine. "They are viewed as taking the money and giving nothing back, and it's up to them to prove otherwise. They have to learn to relate with the fans, to communicate that they are giving 100% all the time. They have to understand where all that money is coming from."
While the changes and imponderables that lie ahead in the 1980s will be many, one thing is certain: it won't be business as usual at the corner stadium.