Dips Fan Day

Dips Fan Day

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Time Well Spent With Paul Cannell

Presented from the archives of the Capital Soccer Show is this link to an episode devoted to Paul Cannell and his days in Washington, and the NASL, featuring many stories told by the legend himself. I cannot recommend his autobiography, "F'n Hell It's Paul Cannell, heartily enough. If you have not purchased a copy, it is well worth the time.
Listen to Paul's inspirational, heart-wrenching journey to overcome his demure manner around women. ;)
Click here to listen to interview

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Sonny Saga, Volume I

Team President
 Steve Danzansky
In October, 1978, the Diplomats were purchased by Madison Square Garden Corporation, a subsidiary of Gulf & Western. The visionary at the helm of MSG was Sonny Werblin, who had developed a reputation for having the Midas touch after decades of success in the business world. Just 26 months later, in December, 1980, Werblin pulled the plug on the Dips and the franchise folded.

Over a series of four posts entitled “The Sonny Saga,” this blog will look back at what lead to MSG purchasing the franchise to its ultimate demise under Werblin’s watch. This first post will deal with the chaotic end to the 1977 season and conclude with the purchase by MSG.

As the Diplomats prepared for the 1977 season, management pondered a major change in venues. For the previous three seasons, the franchise had slowly built a loyal fan base while playing at Woodson Stadium, a high school field in suburban Virginia. Newly hired general manager John Carbray and team president Steve Danzansky decided the time was right to move all home games to Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, in southeast Washington, D.C.

Local soccer demographics revealed encouraging statistics that made such a move logical. 45,000 local youths were playing soccer in organized leagues located in Northern Virginia and Maryland. This mass of potential customers would become larger when parents were taken into consideration. League wide, attendance had risen 34.7% from 1975 to 1976.

That optimism would be short lived. Viollet was fired after a 6-9 start, and the team finished 10-16. In their analysis at seasons end, The Washington Post’s Donald Huff and John Feinstein were brutally honest in their assessment. “The 1977 soccer season, which started with high hopes from the Dips, has ended in total failure. Mediocre players were signed, although good ones were available.”

The news was not as disheartening at the turnstile, but rather a mixed bag. “With their 10-16 record, the Diplomats easily broke their attendance records, drawing an average of 13,058 per game…although many tickets were given away or sold at discount prices.” A September, 1979, article stated that during the ’77 campaign, “less than half of… (those) tickets were paid for.” Huff and Feinstein concluded, “On the field, the team has gone backwards this season. Turning it in the right direction is going to be a difficult task.”

Yet, the organization did just that. In the fall of 1977 Gordon Bradley was hired as the Diplomats third head coach. He came with a reputation as a proven winner with a tireless work ethic. When Bradley was announced as the team’s new coach, it was regarded as “the first move the Dips made in months that was applauded by soccer people not only here but around the league.” An NASL insider stated, “If Gordon Bradley can’t get the job done in Washington, then there probable isn’t anyone who can.”

Bradley got the job done. The Dips won their first 5 matches and eight of their first 10, exponentially increased their offensive production (scoring 55 goals as opposed 1977s total of 31), and made the playoffs, losing a sudden death heartbreaker to the Portland Timber. One would think that team management would have been jubilant.

A prominent headline in the July 29, 1978, Washington Post sports section announced, “Dips Confirm Heavy Loss, May Be Sold.” The adjoining article detailed how the team had amassed financial losses of more than $500,000 for the second straight year. Despite the overall upgrade of on-field personnel, despite the vastly improved offense, despite the fact that the team was a winner and obviously playoff bound, attendance had dropped an average of roughly 2,000 persons per game.

The 1978 Dips are introduced before a home game at RFK Stadium.

Team President Steve Danzansky confessed he was “baffled” by this reversal. It was disclosed, however, that management had drastically reduced the number of complimentary tickets provided during the 1977 season. This was a calculated, and sound, business decision aimed at determining genuine fan interest. “Our expenses were higher this season (1978) but we have a much better team,” Danzansky explained to The Post. Optimistically, he noted that paid attendance had doubled since the previous season.

Speculation about the team’s financial status swirled the remainder of the summer and into early fall. On October 5, 1978, news broke that Madison Square Garden Corp (MSG) had purchased the franchise for $1.5 million (roughly $5.4 million in 2015). MSG was chaired by Sonny Werblin, who helped the American Football League take on and merge with the NFL a decade earlier.

MSG was a subsidiary of Gulf & Western, whose eight groups of companies made upwards of $4 billion in sales the previous fiscal year (Roughly $14.3 billion in 2015). It was, in Werblin’s words, “in the business of purchasing sports franchises and operating them.” Steve Danzansky would remain as team president, and both he and his father Joseph were “substantial minority investors.”

A letter of agreement, signed by the Dips, MSG Corp and the DC Armory Board, which over saw RFK Stadium, stated that the team would stay in Washington for at least 5 years, with options to extend the team’s lease at RFK for 15 years.

At the October 6 press conference introducing the new owners, Werblin stated MSG wanted “to make the Diplomats the best soccer team in the world as soon as possible.” He continued, “I can assure you, that whatever we decide, Gordon Bradley will be in charge of putting this team together.” The two were friends when Bradley coached the Cosmos, so much so that Werblin referred to Bradley as his “soccer mentor.” Publicly, Werblin was saying everything the D.C. soccer community wanted to hear. There may have been more in what he was not saying.

Originally, Werblin envisioned buying the Diplomats and moving them to New York’s Shea Stadium to compete against the Cosmos, who played at the Meadowlands in northern New Jersey. The Cosmos demand of a $12 million indemnity fee and the desire of the NASL to have a team in Washington kept this plan from becoming reality. This revelation would later serve to cast Werblin, in the words of Washington Post columnist Dave Kindred, as a “pinstriped carpetbagger.”

Team President Steve Danzansky presents Sonny Werblin with a ceremonial Dips jersey. After receiving number 79, Werblin would 86 the team within two seasons.
Next time in "The Sonny Saga," mixed messages add up to a firm confirmation of a definite maybe regarding the Diplomats long term status in Washington, or as an entity.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

"You are about to witness a crime."

No, it's not video of a 1970s NASL referee. But seriously, much of the fun in watching old Dips games comes from the vintage commercials that aired during that time period. One such classic was for American Express Travelers Checks, in which Karl Malden would don his "Streets of San Francisco" attire and warn of the perils of carrying cash while on vacation. Of course, the debit card has all but made travelers checks a relic from a bygone era.