Chicago Sting vs. Minnesota Strikers
January 22, 1988
The Rosemont Horizon
Major Indoor Soccer League Programs
Late era match between two long-time North American Soccer League (1968-1984) outdoor clubs, both very much on their last legs playing indoors in the winter of 1988. The Chicago Sting beat the Minnesota Strikers 3-2 on this night at the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago.
Chicago favorite Frank Klopas is pictured on the program cover. Just 21 years old at the time, he was already in his fourth pro season with the Sting, having signed with the club directly out of Chicago’s Mather High School in 1984. Klopas would later join the U.S. National Team and would return to Chicago a decade later to finish his career as a member of Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire in 1998 and 1999.
Sting owner Lee Stern formed the club way back in 1975 as an NASL expansion franchise. 13 seasons was an almost unfathomable level of commitment for an American pro soccer owner of the era. The Sting never drew particularly well outdoors during the NASL era, when they moved all over Chicago from game to game, splitting time between Comiskey Park, Soldier Field and Wrigley Field. But the team did experience a renaissance playing in the NASL’s wintertime indoor league in the early 1980’s at the old Chicago Stadium downtown. Between 1981 and 1985, the Sting drew ten game crowds in excess of 15,000 .
When the NASL folded in 1984, Stern was one of four league owners who took his club over to the Major Indoor Soccer League to continue as an indoor-only team. Fan interest tailed off noticeably in 1985 and then nosedived in 1986 when Stern moved the Sting out of downtown to the suburban Rosemont Horizon. Average attendance for the 1986-87 season was 5,879 per match – barely half of the average crowds just two years earlier (10,628).
The Sting made one last all-in bet on indoor soccer heading into the 1987-88 season. Lee Stern brought on an investment partner in advertising executive Lou Weisbach and a new front office CEO in former Chicago Bulls VP of Marketing David Rosenberg. The Sting bolstered the front office to an all-time high of 21 full-timers. The centerpiece of Weisbach and Rosenberg’s plan for “The New Chicago Sting” was a $1 million investment in post-game concerts for seventeen of the Sting’s twenty-eight home matches. In July 1987, the ad men unveiled a Branson-esque line-up of white-bread entertainment acts, including Marie Osmond, Chubby Checker & Fabian, Suzanne Somers, Buddy Hackett and Jeffrey Osborne.
The gambit was a bust. One month into the season, the Sting began dropping concerts from the schedule, citing poor sound at the Rosemont Horizon and lack of fan interest in many of the acts. This particular match against the Strikers on January 22, 1988 was originally supposed to feature a post-game show from Susan Anton (zzzz…) but this was one of the first shows to get the axe. By early 1988, attendance was languishing back around the 6,000 mark, no better than the year before. A losing team under Head Coach Erich Geyer didn’t help matters.
Meanwhile, in the upper Midwest, the Minnesota Strikers limped into the 1987-88 MISL season basically against the better judgment of its owners, the Robbie Family. Like Stern, the Robbies were long-time owners dating back to the NASL days. The family originally operated the club in their home state of Florida as the Fort Lauderdale Strikers (1977-1983), before relocating to Minnesota in November 1983. Like the Sting, the Strikers joined the MISL in August 1984 with the NASL about to collapse. Indoor soccer did not capture the hearts of Minnesotans. From 1984 to 1987, the Strikers perennially were among the worst draws in the MISL, with attendance hovering between 5,000 and 6,000 per match. The Robbies lost a reported $5.5 million on the Strikers indoor team from 1984 to 1987 and considered shutting down the franchise in each of the prior two seasons. The Robbies also explored permission to sit out a year in August 1987. But each time Joe Robbie was persuaded to return for one more go round.
During the same week that the Strikers traveled to Chicago for this January 1988 match, the Robbies were negotiating the sale of the Strikers to a Saudi oil billionaire named Yehia Ben Sead. Sead talked a big game and reportedly printed up promotional bumper stickers for the acquisition (“Strikers and Soccer: It’s Sheik”) but nothing ever came of the talks.
Five months to the day after this match, the Strikers went out of business at the MISL’s annual league meetings on June 22, 1988. Lee Stern followed suit two weeks later, folding the Chicago Sting on July 8, 1988 after a last gasp effort to move the team to Denver fell through. At the time, the Sting were the oldest professional soccer franchise in the United States.
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