Egg Harbor Township teacher Dawn Heist was thrilled when a representative of the Arena Football League’s Atlantic City Blackjacks contacted her this week to see whether her music class would be interested in performing the national anthem this season at one of the team’s home games at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.
She was singing a much different tune when she learned it would cost $1,500 to do it.
“When they first called, I got really excited,” said Heist, a kindergarten and music teacher at Trinity Learning Center. “When they told me I had to buy $1,500 worth of tickets, I said, ‘Excuse me?’ I was a little taken aback at first, and the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. This is a really bad way for them to start out.”
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According to AFL President John Adams, it’s a fairly common practice with Arena League franchises.
The Philadelphia 76ers and Eagles do not have those same requirements. Both teams provide tickets to the performers and their families for that particular game.
Because AFL teams only play six home games, the league views it as a way to generate revenue and put some extra fans in the stands.
“The premise is that it’s a very cool experience for the school groups and other organizations,” said Adams, whose 15-year tenure with the Arena League includes 12 years as president of the Philadelphia Soul. “They get to be down on the field with the players and everything for 90 minutes and also perform in front of thousands of people. And the $1,500 over six games actually makes up a significant part of the game-day revenue.
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“The Soul has been doing it since 2004, and just about every other team that’s been in the league during that time has done the same thing or something very similar.”
That was news to Heist, who said she performed the anthem for past Atlantic City teams such as the Seagulls of the former United States Basketball League and the Boardwalk Bullies of the East Coast Hockey League.
In those cases, they did not have to pay for tickets, and family and guests were given free seats.
“It’s unheard of for me,” said Heist, who said she also has performed solo at sports events and venues such as the now-closed Atlantic City Race Course in Mays Landing. “We’re not a very big school, and it would be hard to raise that kind of money. You’re talking about children that are between 4 and 8 or 9 years old. And what if you agree and then you come up short? It’s just a horrible way of doing things, in my opinion. Needless to say, I told them no.”
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The Blackjacks play their first home game May 4 at Boardwalk Hall against the Columbus Destroyers and has subsequent home games May 18 (Baltimore Brigade), May 25 (Albany Empire), June 1 (Baltimore), July 11 (Soul) and July 21 (Baltimore).
Adams said he expects the team to have plenty of groups available to sing the anthem.
“In Philadelphia, they have a waiting list of people who want to sing the national anthem or ‘God Bless America,’” he said. “It’s one of the first things to sell out as soon as we announce the schedule. If someone decides not to do it, it’s not a big deal. We completely understand.”