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Saturday, May 13, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Walsh still owes Air Force $300,000 for Seattle game

Seattle Times staff reporter

The unusual switch that brought the Air Force-Washington football game to Qwest Field last September left the Falcons collecting an amount well short of their financial guarantee.

Promoter Bob Walsh has come $300,000 shy of a renegotiated $1.3 million guarantee the Falcons were to receive after they agreed to move the game from Colorado Springs to Seattle in 2004, confirmed Mike Saks, Air Force's senior associate athletic director.

"We fully believe and expect that consideration will be resolved," Saks said. "We want to take other events to the city of Seattle.

"We're partners, and partners help each other."

Saks said the $300,000 shortfall likely would come in "future considerations" — as part of an agreement with Walsh to bring additional Air Force events here.

"It could be a volleyball tournament, a track meet, a baseball tournament," Saks said. "Who knows? We could have a college hockey tournament in a town that has amateur hockey."

While Air Force says it was pleased with the experience, the game drew only 26,482, which made it a disastrous proposition financially.

"They're very happy with what they got," Walsh said this week. "They said they're very happy with it. We had a low attendance, and that's about it."

Meanwhile, Walsh appears to face an uncertain future as a promoter here. Months before the Air Force-UW game struggled at the gate, the Walsh-promoted Pacific Rim Sports Summit, planned as a six-day, multi-sport run-up in Seattle to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, fell through, resulting in an ongoing dispute with the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Walsh closed his downtown office after that, saying the space was unnecessary after the breakup of the Seattle Organizing Committee. He opened another office in Bellevue but has closed that, saying he plans to reopen again in Seattle.

Promoter of many successful Seattle-area events, including the 1990 Goodwill Games, Walsh says he has begun marketing Georgian wines, an outgrowth of contacts years ago in Russia, some of which brought about the Goodwill Games.

Last winter, he says, he survived a health crisis, when he had four stents placed in arteries to relieve a serious problem with blood circulation.

Clearly, Walsh and Air Force were the victims of unfortunate timing after they announced early in 2004 that the game would be moved from Colorado Springs to Seattle, with the Huskies still acting as the "visiting" team even though the game site would be only about 5 miles away.

The game was originally ticketed as the Huskies' "return" date for Air Force's trip here in 1999. The home-and-home contract was signed in 1997 under then-UW athletic director Barbara Hedges, with UW to receive $275,000 from the Air Force gate.

Walsh enticed the Falcons to give up the home game with what now appears to be an outsized guarantee. Air Force was first contracted to receive $2.3 million, compared to a typical gross gate in Colorado Springs of "$800,000, at best," says Saks. For comparative purposes, a gross gate (before expenses) at Husky Stadium is about $2 million, figured at 70,000 people paying an average of about $30 a ticket.

But ticket prices were at a relatively high $25 to $80 for the Qwest game, UW was coming off a 1-10 season, and the game was on Labor Day weekend, traditionally a challenge for Northwest host teams.

"Everybody said this is a slam-dunk," Saks said, referring to the likelihood the game would do well at the gate before the UW downturn. "Again, timing is everything."

The Huskies say they received $275,000, but when the tickets lagged in advance of the game, Air Force's $2.3 million guarantee was renegotiated down twice, Saks says, first to $1.8 million, then to $1.3 million, with the stipulation that it would get more if a bigger crowd materialized.

"I thought we were going to sell the place out when we made the deal," Walsh said on game day.

Saks says Walsh's firm paid for Air Force's entire travel party, numbering close to 200 people, and that academy officials and Falcons players considered it a great venture. Air Force won, 20-17.

"Everybody wants to hang their hat on money," Saks said. "We had such a positive experience."

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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