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Can't Go Home Again

Soccer fans still come to the Cotton Bowl, but in dwindling numbers.

Can't Go Home Again
The wandering Dallas Burn hopes its fans will follow

Out comes the flag again. It's maybe 40 feet long and 40 feet wide with a simple crimson and black blocked design. The guy running it up the steps of the Cotton Bowl, man, he's a fan. He's wearing a huge wig of spiked hair--dyed crimson and black--and a smile that reaches his eyes. The Dallas Burn has scored again, a meaningless goal in the 84th minute by Toni Nhleko to further secure this win against New England, and the flag is now unfurled and everyone in the section, all 25 of them spread across eight rows, grab a hold of the corners and shake the damn thing as hard as they can.

The noise is deafening. Everyone, everywhere, is screaming. Or pounding on big bass drums they huffed through the gate. Or spilling their beer as they jump about.

There are 6,941 in attendance. Though the fans are loud, there aren't nearly enough of them--not nearly enough to fill the Cotton Bowl, not nearly enough to placate the fears of the Burn's front office.

Because next year, Dallas takes its dwindled fan base and moves it to Frisco, home of a soccer-specific stadium the team will own. The hope is that this Frisco stadium will lead the franchise to financial viability.

But moving to Frisco alienates the Burn's most loyal fan base: Hispanics. Hispanics who, by and large, live in Dallas and may not travel to Frisco next year because of what's happened in years past.

For seven seasons, Hispanics were 50 percent of the Burn's audience. The team's average attendance hovered between 12,000 and 15,000 per game at the Cotton Bowl. Then last year the Burn moved to Dragon Stadium in Southlake. While the Cotton Bowl can accommodate a soccer pitch, Dragon Stadium is made for football alone.

"I went to Southlake a few games," Razael Latina, the man with the wig of spiked hair, says a couple of moments after the Burn scored its final goal against New England. He speaks through an interpreter, Ruben Morales, who sits five rows behind Latina. "I don't know," Latina says. "[Southlake] was a long ways away."

Indeed it was. Twenty-three miles from Dallas. And the artificial turf of Dragon Stadium didn't appeal to soccer loyalists. Nor did the Burn's record: 6-19-5, with wins in only four of its 14 home games. Hispanics stopped showing up. Suburbanites never did.

The Burn moved back to the Cotton Bowl this season, got a new general manager, Greg Elliot, and a new outlook: wooing the Hispanic fan base.

Elliot and staff met with members of Dallas' various soccer leagues. They met with the Hispanic media and Hispanic civic leaders.

They wanted to know what they'd done wrong and what they could do better.

Everyone wanted a Hispanic star on the team. Failing that, they wanted their voices heard. "The only thing that [the Burn] wants is Hispanics to go to the stadium, pay a ticket and go home," says Daniel Donati, president of the World Master's Cup of Soccer, an adult league based in Dallas. "Nobody has any voice."

Complaints like this put the Burn front office in a tough spot, because the team moved back to the Cotton Bowl this year only to move next year to Frisco. So how do you tell a group of people upset with you moving that you're listening to them, but, sorry, you're moving again?

"That's challenging," says Jeff Busch, vice president of marketing and communications for the Burn.

Says Elliot, "The main thing is that they need to care about the team again." To that end, the games are available on the radio this year exclusively in Spanish, Elliot says. He's pushed for a lot of individual profiles in Spanish newspapers Al Dia and La Estrella. And, if the situation's right for the player and the price right for the team, Elliot says he'd like nothing more than to bring on a certifiable Hispanic star from a foreign league.

Still, the numbers are down this season. Elliot says perhaps only 20 percent of this year's average audience, which has itself decreased in size, is Hispanic. But he thinks the Frisco Soccer and Entertainment Center, just off the Dallas North Tollway, will change many perceptions. "It's friendly up there," Elliot says. "The ambience is much more intimate. It seats only 20,000, compared to the Cotton Bowl's 65,000, and [Hispanics] should feel comfortable."

Indeed, even Donati says moving to Frisco "is the first smart thing they're doing."

For one, the Burn, no longer a tenant of the Cotton Bowl, will finally have complete control of the revenue. For nine years, proceeds from ticket sales, concessions and parking had been shared with the Cotton Bowl. Now, all of it will be the Burn's. Throw in the naming rights, which could fetch $2 million a season, and suddenly the Hunt Sports Group, which owns the Burn, could see black where before there was only red.

 

And that's not considering the new fan base: the Anglos living in Frisco who are soccer-mad.

The North Texas Soccer Association boasts one of the highest counts of registered members of any soccer association in America. And many of them are kids. Around the new soccer stadium will be 17 additional pitches where kids will have their weekend tournaments. Plus, the United States Youth Soccer Association is moving next year to Frisco, says Frisco Mayor Mike Simpson.

Doug Hamilton, the general manager of the L.A. Galaxy, is jealous. Last season, the Galaxy made $150,000, the first time the team's ever landed in the black. What helped was a move to a soccer-specific stadium, the Home Depot Center, where the Galaxy controls the revenue. But Hamilton's "lifeline" is the kids whose parents buy season tickets or group tickets. "The kids have the biggest impact on our bottom lines," Hamilton says. "They make up a large majority of our fan base.

"And we don't have what Frisco has."

Sure, Greg Elliot would like the Hispanic audience to return. "But we're hoping for a really racially diverse fan base," he says. --Paul Kix

Busted

Life on the lam ended for rich-boy and scammer Douglas Havard on June 4, with his arrest in Leeds, a city in northern England (see "Crazy White Mother," December 26, 2002, and "Lamming It," March 25, 2004).

Havard was apprehended by the West Yorkshire police and the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit and charged with possession of a "Section 5" firearm--an illegal air gun. He also faces two charges of "possession of a false instrument"--a phony Spanish passport and bogus travelers' checks totaling 17,700 Euros. He's now being held in a Leeds jail.

"He's been remanded in custody," says a spokeswoman for the high-tech unit, a division within the National Crime Squad that focuses on computer and other high-tech crimes. Havard wasn't arrested on the outstanding American warrants against him, she said, but new crimes committed in England.

When arrested, Havard, 21, had been a fugitive for almost two years. He's wanted in Dallas and Collin counties on four felony charges, including aggravated robbery, theft, selling 10 gallons of GHB (a "date rape" drug) to an undercover officer and counterfeiting government documents. As a freshman resident of Perkins Hall at SMU, Havard allegedly was running a crime ring selling stolen electronics and counterfeit drivers licenses.

Michael Kulstead, spokesman with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, declined to say whether extradition proceedings have been initiated to bring Havard to Texas to face trial.

Since his disappearance in the fall of 2002, stories of Havard sightings in exotic locales have put him all over the world, from Austin to Brazil to Hong Kong. What was he doing in Leeds, a grimy industrial city built on the wool and textile industry?

"It's not an easy place for an American to go unnoticed," says one Brit who grew up in Leeds. "An American could hide much more easily in London. " --Glenna Whitley

Inside Track

I knew there was going to be trouble when the convention organizer, Christopher Jagge, came looking for me during the "icebreaker reception." The Libertarian State Convention, which was being held June 11-13 at the Hilton in College Station, was less than two hours old and already people wanted to talk. All I wanted to do was drink overpriced beer and sit in the corner.

"Mr. Gonzalez, helllooooo," Jagge said, looking at my name tag. "If there's anything you need, anything at all, just let me know. You have full access this weekend."

I thought that could be dangerous for Jagge and the Libertarians. I was in College Station in a dual capacity--first because I'm running for U.S. Congress in District 5 on the Libertarian ticket, second as a reporter. They knew that. But what they maybe didn't know was that I'm not a Libertarian, I'm an Independent. I decided to run for Congress as a Libertarian so I could circumvent the filing laws that Republicans and Democrats are subject to but which minor parties don't have to meet. Still, the Libertarians' willingness to grant unfettered access to a wolf in candidate's clothing made me wonder if I was screwing the Libs more than necessary.

Luckily, there was a lot of beer around, and any ethical concerns were immediately drowned in hops. I spent the rest of the weekend checking out workshops that were really thinly veiled propaganda sessions held under titles such as "Annexation: Texas Style" and "Katie Get Your Gun." My favorite moment came when one delegate called the federal government "a foreign power" and continued with: "The U.S. government created the District of Columbia and put its government there for a reason. The laws that are created in D.C. shouldn't affect us here in the great state of Texas."

 

That's when it hit me. Maybe my involvement with the Libertarians isn't so dangerous for the party after all. Maybe it's just dangerous for me. --John Gonzalez

To be continued...


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