The few loyal followers of the old Buffalo Stallions indoor soccer team must have been in their glory during the past couple of weeks as the World Cup was being played in Brazil.
The Stallions played in Memorial Auditorium from 1979 to 1984. The highlight of this brief flirtation with the sport had to have been the night that Buffalo hosted the 1982 Major Indoor Soccer League All-Star Game. But it was all downhill from there.
Professional indoor soccer returned to the Queen City in 1992 via the Buffalo Blizzard of the National Professional Soccer League. The Blizzard played at the Aud until it closed in 1996.
Our two experiments in soccer are a far cry from the four-year cycle of the World Cup, which began in Uruguay in 1930. That nation had won the Olympic gold medal in 1924 and 1928 and was the clear favorite to host the inaugural World Cup. The Great Depression and simmering world tensions prevented all but four European teams from competing, yet an average of more than 24,800 fans attended each of the 18 games.
This year’s World Cup has a 60-game schedule. The average attendance thus far is in excess of 52,000 fans per game.
But back to the Stallions.
A record crowd of 16,103 turned out for a regular season game against the New York Arrows on March 7, 1981. Two weeks later, the Stallions announced a new record with 16,329 on hand for a playoff game against the St. Louis Steamers. For the 1980-81 season, the Stallions claimed 189,742 fans for an average game attendance of 9,472, according to the website funwhileitlasted.net.
By the end of the 1984 season, average attendance at a Stallions game was slightly more than 7,000. The team was granted permission to withdraw from the league but never made a move to return.
While World Cup team players have an infinite number of devoted followers who are able to recite their statistics at will, Buffalo fans had almost no connection at all with the foreign-born players who were recruited to play here. It was not unusual for a new player to be rushed from the Buffalo Airport to the team’s practice facility at Medaille College to join in a scrimmage.
They had a quick photo taken to be included with a press release crafted by the team’s energetic PR Director Jim Smigelski. He did his best to make these signings seem as important as today’s pro football drafts.
A contest was held to name the team, and Earl MacDonald of Williamsville won with “Stallions” because that had been his high school’s moniker. That led to a logo featuring two horses heading a ball as well as the opportunity to bring a real horse on to the field at the Aud to excite the crowd. Tragically, the horse relieved himself near one of the benches.
Stallions’ fans got their first exposure to the exaggerated falls and “injuries” better known by followers of the European and South American teams. These dramatic interludes slowed the matches even further and made pro hockey fans cringe in embarrassment.
Two bright stars in the Stallions’ history were American players Jim May and Dave Sarachan. May attended Brockport State College and played for the Rochester Lancers of the North American Soccer League before being drafted by the Stallions in the MISL expansion draft.
Sarachan grew up in suburban Rochester and played at Monroe Community College and Cornell University. Like May, he played first for the Lancers before joining the Stallions.
While the team always had local ownership, May and Sarachan were the closest connections Buffalo fans ever had with anyone on the roster. That lack of fan appeal had as much as anything else to do with the lack of support at the box office.
World Cup teams play on a truly international stage and don’t need contests or gimmicks to fill the stands. And they certainly don’t need nervous horses either.
(David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at email@example.com.)