Posts Tagged ‘Buffalo Memorial Auditorium’
The Major Indoor Soccer League launched in December of 1978 with six franchises playing a winter schedule in major market hockey arenas. Buoyed by consistently large crowds in Philadelphia and strong showings in several other cities, the MISL began to market expansion franchises for the 1979-80 season. Buffalo, New York received the first MISL expansion club on March 22, 1979.
The principal investors in the Buffalo Stallions were a group of local executives from Tops Markets, the largest supermarket chain in Western New York, led by Tops CEO Armand J. Castellani and Vice President Michael Geraci.
The Stallions would fill winter dates in the city’s Memorial Auditorium, which was down to one primary tenant (the NHL’s Sabres) after the 1978 departure of the Buffalo Braves NBA franchise. The team attracted 11,028 to its home debut at the Aud against the Philadelphia Fever on December 7, 1979. The Stallions remained a popular draw for the rest of the 1979-80 season, claiming average attendance of 8,556 per match for the 16-game MISL schedule.
Two of the great legends of international soccer briefly wore the Stallions colors. In early 1980, midway through the Stallions first season, the club signed Eusebio, the famed Mozambican-born Portuguese international. By this point, the 37-year old was in state of acute physical decline. He spent most of the late 1970’s moving bouncing around between lower-division Portuguese clubs and obscure American teams such as the Las Vegas Quicksilvers and the New Jersey Americans. Eusebio suited up for five games for the Stallions, scoring one goal. These marked the final pro games of his remarkable career and his only indoor professional experience.
In October 1980, the Stallions signed the banned Italian striker Paolo Rossi. Earlier in the year Rossi, a veteran of the 1978 Italian World Cup team, became embroiled in the Totonero match fixing scandal, resulting in a three-year ban from Italian soccer. Rossi appeared in one pre-season exhibition match for the Stallions on October 30th, 1980, but never appeared in the regular season. Rossi’s three-year suspension was later reduced to allow him to represent Italy in the 1982 World Cup. Rossi scored six goals in the tourament, leading Italy to victory and earning the 1982 World Cup’s Golden Boot award.
Stallions attendance peaked during the club’s second season in 1980-81. During a span of two weeks in March of 1981, the Stallions drew the two largest crowds in what would turn out to be the club’s five-year history. A record (announced) crowd of 16,103 turned out for a regular season match against in-state rivals the New York Arrows on March 7th, 1981. Two weeks later, the Stallions announced a new record with 16,329 on hand for a March 21st, 1981 MISL 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.
Stallions attendance began to drop precipitously in 1982. Average attendance dropped from 9,214 (1981-82 season) to 7,422 for the 1982-83 campaign. The Geraci/Castellani ownership group decided to pullout in the spring of 1983, selling to minority investor Frank Deni in June 1983.
Attendance continuted to plummet under the Deni regime, dropping to a franchise low of 5,183 per game during the 1983-84 season. This was nearly a 50% drop in just two seasons. By July of 1984, the Stallions owed $94,000 in back rent to the Memorial Auditorium. Stallions President & General Manager John Bellanti owned 16% of the club and made an offer to buy controlling interest in the club and keep the team in Buffalo. But Bellanti and Deni could not agree on terms.
Adding insult to injury, Auditorium manager George Gould interrupted Stallions officials trying to remove office furniture from their arena offices under cover of darkness. Gould padlocked the Stallions out of the building and the story was picked up by national wire services, after Gould drew a comparison with the recent midnight depature of the NFL’s Colts from Baltimore.
The following week, at annual league meetings in Los Angeles, the MISL granted a request for the Stallions and the Phoenix Pride to suspend operations and withdraw from the league for one season to financially reorganize. The move had precendent within the league, as the MISL’s Pittsburgh Spirit franchise withdrew from the league prior to the 1980-81 season and then returned under new ownership for the 1981-82 season. Unlike the Spirit, however, the Stallions and the Pride were never heard from again.
Professional indoor soccer returned to Buffalo in the fall of 1992 with the Buffalo Blizzard of the National Professional Soccer League. The Blizzard played at the Aud until it closed in 1996. Former Stallions goalkeeper Jim May served as the Blizzard’s General Manager and John Bellanti, a former Stallions minority partner and President/GM, owned the team during its final seasons. The Blizzard folded in 2001, lasting four seasons longer than the Stallions had in Buffalo.
Bellanti, along with original Stallions investors Armand Castellani and Michael Geraci, have all passed away.
The Major Indoor Soccer League folded in July 1992. Thirty-two franchises came and went during the league’s 14-year existence.