NFL Spartans Business Office in the Royal Savings & Loan Building
Harry N. Snyder and the Business of Pro Football in Portsmouth, Ohio
Harry N. Snyder, the largest share owner of the Spartans, was the sole proprietor of the Universal Contracting Company. Snyder had prospered in the 1920s with major road, bridge, and dam construction projects on the Ohio River and in Portsmouth and New Boston. It was Snyder who located the office of Universal Contracting in Room 25 of the Royal Savings & Loan Company Building and thus it was Room 25 that became the official business address of the Portsmouth National League Football Corporation -- the NFL Spartans.
Here, from their office in The Royal, Snyder and Harold Griffen, the Spartans’ business manager, would run the back office of the Spartan organization. And, ultimately, it was not victories on the playing field, but rather gate returns that would determine the fate of the NFL franchise in Portsmouth.
Ever since the sale of the team to Detroit in 1934, residents of the city and sports historians have speculated as to the causes of the Spartan's business failure. There have been those who point to Green Bay and the Packers' ability to survive in a small town environment, suggesting that it was the Packer's national championships that ensured their financial success. Spartan fans would like to believe that history would have turned out differently, if only the Spartans had won the Championship in 1931 and 1932.
Others blame the Great Depression for driving down attendance and ticket sales, ensuring that smaller towns and ticket markets simply could not turn a profit, especially as the cost of fielding a team of top notch professionals became only possible in the larger cities, where tens of thousands of tickets could be sold for each game. The Spartans needed to sell between 6,000 and 7,000 tickets at their home games in Universal Stadium to ensure profitability and the completion of the stadium's construction. This, however, was rarely ever the case, with more typical attendance hitting the 3,000 to 4,000 mark and sometimes significantly less.
In 1934, when Snyder explained why he and the board of directors had decided to sell the team franchise to Detroit, he noted that “the team lost $27,000 in 1930, $16,000 in 1931, $5,000 in 1932 and $14,000 in 1933.”
In the end, as the National Football League matured in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the smaller cities that had once been so common in the League were giving way to the larger cities, where the ticket sales could support the rising cost of star player contracts. In the end, the success of the Spartans on the field was testament to a time in the NFL's history when places like Portsmouth, with some 40,000 residents and a dedicated group of boosters, could put together a team capable of dominating the league. But the story of the Spartans' struggle to break a profit and complete the construction of Universal Stadium is one that foretells the emergence of the modern NFL, where only the largest cities (with Green Bay as the exception that proves the rule), with large ticket and media markets, can turn a profit.