The appointment of veteran public relations expert Dick White as general manager of the Los Angeles Heat may signal that the American Professional Soccer League team will remain in the South Bay and not move to Orange County as previously announced.
White, a former sports editor at the Torrance Daily Breeze who has held several professional sports management jobs over the past 25 years, was appointed Tuesday to replace Jill Fracisco, who was the only female executive in the APSL. Fracisco, 26, criticized by team owners for her leadership style, was quietly fired Sept. 24.
A graduate of El Camino College and a current board member of the school's fund-raising foundation, White opposes moving the team to Orange County for the 1991 season, a decision announced in August by Club President John Ajemian. Ajemian's announcement has met with resistance from dissident South Bay owners and some league officials.
"We are not going to Orange County," White said.
Ajemian said in recent weeks it became clear that the Heat would have trouble finding a suitable stadium near Mission Viejo, his top choice. In addition, there is speculation that the San Diego Nomads, who did poorly at the gate after moving to Southwestern College in Chula Vista, are investigating a move into South Orange County.
White's appointment is seen as a compromise by Ajemian to several owners among the more than half a dozen who hold a stake in the Heat.
"I want to go to Orange County, but it is not entirely my decision," Ajemian said.
Ajemian, 31, and L.A. record company executive Lionel Conway are recognized by the APSL as holding 50% ownership of the club, although legal documents between owners have not been finalized yet. Ajemian said he and Conway have put more than $160,000 into the Heat, which has never turned a profit. The Heat's 1989 budget was less than $400,000.
Ajemian said that he expects White to do "a great job."
"The main thing I think he will do is to get us more recognition in the community," Ajemian said. "He's been here a while. He will open some eyes."
A resident of San Pedro, White, 50, has held positions in public relations, marketing and management with the Los Angeles Blades hockey team, San Diego Sports Enterprises, which ran the San Diego Sports Arena and the defunct Gulls professional hockey team and Rockets professional basketball team.
He also worked for California Sports Inc., when it operated the Forum, Kings and Lakers, the Los Angeles Aztecs, a defunct professional soccer team based at El Camino, the Coliseum Commission and the Hollywood Palladium.
White would like to see the team play at El Camino's Murdock Stadium, but is also considering Veterans Stadium in Long Beach, where the Heat drew 3,500 for its first game of the APSL West championship series with the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks.
Veterans Stadium, owned by Long Beach City College, has a license to sell beer. El Camino does not allow the sale of alcohol. However, at either site, the concessions would be run by the host school, with the Heat drawing, perhaps, a small percentage of the total sales.
White is anxious to negotiate for a home field.
"I wish we had a decision a week ago," he said. "It's my feeling that we are two months behind now in deciding where we are going to play."
"In my opinion, (White) should have been hired two months ago," he said. "All of this should have been decided long ago."
The Heat played its home opener at Murdock Stadium and the remaining nine regular-season home games at West Torrance High last summer, a field that was too narrow by soccer standards and offered few of the amenities that league officials want in a stadium. The team also failed to attract large crowds. The Heat's largest announced crowd was 1,124 for a game against Salt Lake City in mid-July. Next season the APSL West is expected to require members to attract a minimum of 2,500 spectators a game. In addition, the APSL championship game is scheduled to be played in the West, either San Jose or Los Angeles. The Heat would be designated the host team if the championship game is held here.
The rent at West Torrance was low, however, compared to Murdock Stadium, which according to Ajemian, cost more than $9,000 for the one game. The cost at Veterans Stadium ran about $600, plus incidentals and management fees, which brought the one-game total to about $2,400. A multiyear pact might reduce those fees substantially, a source with the Heat said.
El Camino officials have also offered to drop the rental fee to $3,000 per game, according to two sources.
The club expects to maintain its offices on Pacific Coast Highway in Redondo Beach, a building that is owned by Eugene Schiappa, a founder and part-owner of L.A. Heat Inc., which was founded in 1986.
White has been working as private management consultant on a part-time basis since suffering a heart attack last year. He was reportedly approached by a Heat owner, Roland Martin, about two months ago about taking the job.