12-02-1982 Chicago Sting 5 Montreal Manic 3 (NASL Indoor) Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois
At the time of this game the Sting were competing in the NASL Indoor League. The NASL was an outdoor league first and foremost but had jumped on the back of the indoor soccer bandwagon following the success of the Major Indoor Soccer League (or the MISL for short).
The MISL, formed in 1978, had been the brain child of a group of media savvy types who wanted a sport that would look good on the television. This is where they first hoped to get exposure to promote the league and then latter on big bucks from a lucrative TV deal.
To kick things off they got two teams together and had them play a game in an indoor arena (something along the lines of the annual Daily Express five-a-side tournament in the UK at the time). The game was recorded on video and analyzed by a number of experienced television producers who came up with the following:
- Play with a red ball because red balls, unlike their white counterparts used in the outdoor game, look good on TV, sometimes appearing to leave rocket trails behind them.
- To accommodate TV ads, split the game into four 15-minute quarters, with a three-minute break after the first and third quarters and a 20-minute break at halftime.
- Use a goal that is higher than its outdoor equivalent so that TV cameras can capture more head shots around the net.
- Teams should play in bright colors. TV just adores bright colours.
- The NASL had problems getting fans to identify with its mostly imported stars, so the new indoor league should require that 13 of each team’s 20 player squads must be North Americans.
- Play the game on a small pitch to encourage high scoring. American’s just adore high scoring games no matter the sport.
One thing that this new sport was not was bland and the floor was open for ideas to get the crowds going before and during the game. Elaborate player introductions before matches were de rigueur, with one side, the Baltimore Blast, using a flying saucer lowered from the roof, and other special effects, to make it appear as though their players had arrived from outer space.
For the 1981-82 season, the leagues fourth, there were teams in Baltimore, Denver, Buffalo, Cleveland, Kansas City, Memphis, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Wichita. Twelve of this group of thirteen already had local TV contracts, although ratings were not that great, but nonetheless attendances were on the rise and the season would finish with an 8,735 average, the St. Louis Steamers top of the pile averaging an impressive 17,800.
The league continued for a further ten years (the Chicago Sting competing in the 1982-83 season and from 1984-85 through to 1987-88) but never managed to build on its bright start. It managed to maintain an average of just under 8,000 fans a game but a long term national TV contract was never forthcoming. A protracted salary war and the growth of the NPSL – a rival indoor league to which many players switched their allegiance – was the final nail in the league’s coffin. So a league that had done so much to raise awareness of the professional game in North America (albeit indoors) came to an end in 1992 just two years short of the arrival of the World Cup on US shores in 1994.