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Original Issue

Saturation in Dallas

The dollars flow like blood in Texas' pro war, and the winner will be the one who loses least

When the Dallas Texans played the New York Titans in the Cotton Bowl last week, they were watched (for free) by a large number of barbers in white jackets, a much larger number of kids in free, white Texan T shirts, several thousand high school students who had attended a high school game the previous Friday night and a few paying customers, some of whom got in on cut-rate tickets by virtue of having purchased groceries or the right brand of cigarettes or potato chips.

It all added up to 37,500 spectators and what Texan Owner Lamar Hunt, engaged in a battle with the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League, calls exposure.

"That's what we need this year," Hunt, representing the rival American Football League, said recently. "Exposure. We have to change the football habits of the people here, so we have to induce them to come to our games however we can."

"Exposure," said an irritated official of the Cowboys, "can kill people." The Cowboys have adopted the novel policy of asking spectators to pay to see their games. Only youngsters get in free. Five kids are admitted to the end zone with each adult general-admission ticket purchased. As a consequence, the Cowboys are consistently outdrawn by the Texans AFL entry but the Cowboy money gate is as consistently ahead of the Texans.

One Dallas critic, indulging the Texas penchant for the vivid if vaguely familiar image, said last week: "They are fighting for survival knee-deep in a sea of red ink." It is unlikely that the red sea will part for either club in the near future; pro football has never been profitable for two teams in a single city.

Contributing to the financial woes of the pro clubs is the cloying flood of football which inundates this city on a typical weekend. Recently, from Friday night through Sunday afternoon, 750,000-odd people in Dallas (pop. 800,000) saw a football game of one kind or another. Six high school games on Friday night drew 44,000. Two small college games in the vicinity totaled 14,500, and an estimated 625,000 watched three TV games—a college game on Saturday afternoon and two NFL pro games on Sunday afternoon. During the weekend, the Cowboys played the Pittsburgh Steelers before 30,000 in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday night, and the Texans played the Los Angeles Chargers before 42,000 on Sunday afternoon. SMU, a regular Saturday afternoon attraction in Dallas, was away losing to Ohio State.

These figures for the pro games were gross attendance and included all the paper. Neither team came close to breaking even financially; only owners as wealthy as the Texans' Lamar Hunt and the Cowboys' Bedford Wynne and Clint Murchison Jr. could hope to survive a year as financially debilitating as this one will be.

The two sets of owners are well matched in resources. A story (probably apocryphal) has it that a friend called Lamar's father, H. L. Hunt, reported to be one of the richest men in the world, and told him, "I'm worried about Lamar. He's going to lose a lot of money in this professional football."

"How much?" asked the elder Hunt.

"I figure about a million dollars this year," said the friend.

Hunt was silent a moment, then he said, "At that rate he's only going to last 150 years."

Hunt's friend was a little high in his estimate of losses. Hunt will likely lose closer to half a million. Because of a higher player payroll and higher initial investment the Cowboy owners, just as wealthy, will lose a good deal more, but right now they seem to stand a better chance of survival. Their ticket prices are higher, their football team considerably better, their visiting teams well known and supplied with more famous stars and their league more solidly established.

Hunt, who organized the Texans and the AFL when he could not obtain an NFL franchise, enjoyed the good will of the Dallas populace at first. The NFL entry, coming in later, was regarded as the villain, set up by the league to run the AFL out of business. Since then, the Texans' aggressive giveaway policy on tickets has begun to irritate the powerful college factions, who already have felt the competition of the pros.

"They'll learn you just cheapen a product by giving it away," says one Southwest Conference athletic director. "If they keep it up, they're going to ruin a good thing."

Admitting the barbers free was nonsense, but letting in high school students who could prove with their ticket stubs that they had attended their Friday night school games might have been designed to cut the attendance at the Cowboy game with the Philadelphia Eagles, which was also played on Friday night. Since the Cowboys' gate dropped from 30,000 the first week, when they lost in a thriller 35-28 to the Pittsburgh Steelers, to 18,500 for the Eagles game, the ploy—if ploy it was—was successful.

A spokesman for the Texans, however, denied that they had tried to dent the Cowboys' gate. "It is ridiculous," he said, "to think that any kid who was not already going to a high school game would change his mind so he could see our game. We were only trying to show the people in high school football that we are on their side."

After two games and two losses (the Eagles beat them 27-25), the Cowboys were nevertheless an artistic success. They played better football against better teams than did the Texans, who won 17-0 in a dull opening game with the Los Angeles Chargers and lost 37-35 to the New York Titans. The teams will not play in Dallas on the same weekend for the rest of the season, which may be a good thing for both.