PUBLISH AND PERISH
Last year, Bert Matthews had to fight the City of Denver and the Colorado Rockies for the right to hawk The Homestand Flier, the baseball-themed scorecard and paper he publishes and sells for a dollar a copy. This year, the city and the team raised the white flag, but another competitor has taken the field.
The latest foe to challenge Matthews is Robert Lewis, the 26-year-old publisher of The Game Program, a free scorecard and paper that, like the Flier, is pitched outside Mile High Stadium during Rockies games. Matthews claims that Lewis and his employees have engaged in a continuing campaign to disrupt his sales. Lewis counters that he's been victimized by what he calls "severe harassment from the people with the Flier. They're taking unethical actions to interfere with us."
Thus far, the conflict has been colorful, thanks to a complaint filed with police over an argument involving a Flier vendor and a pair of busty employees from Hooters restaurant. Both Matthews and Lewis (who says the Program receives no monetary support from the Rockies) insist that they'd like to work out a peaceful solution, but neither seems ready to hit the showers.
Matthews is no stranger to a scrap. A longtime baseball fan, he began distributing the Flier (a twelve-to-twenty-page publication that includes a scorecard and updated lineup information) at the Rockies' first home game in April 1993; his goal was to provide fans with a less expensive alternative to the $4 program printed by the Rockies. Soon, Matthews was warned by police patrolling the area outside the stadium that he was guilty of huckstering--vending too close to a recreational facility without a proper license. When he attempted to obtain a license, however, he was told by city personnel that he didn't need one because he was selling a publication and therefore was protected under the First Amendment.
Believing he was in the clear, Matthews returned to the stadium during the next home stand--and promptly was arrested for huckstering. After spending several hours in jail, he wasted no time whipping up favorable media coverage about his plight. Within two weeks, a deal was worked out with the Denver district attorney's office, with Matthews being allowed to sell the Flier near the stadium. This season, the Rockies started selling a $1 scorecard inside the stadium that is intended to appeal to people (like Flier customers) who want to keep score but aren't interested in buying a $4 program. Nevertheless, Matthews says the Rockies have treated him well this season: "They've issued me full press credentials. I feel like they've accepted what I do."
In the meantime, Robert Lewis appeared on the scene. An Illinois native whose only previous publishing experience involved Mainstream, a magazine aimed at fraternities and sororities at the University of Arizona, he's also a dedicated baseball nut. "When I was seventeen or eighteen years old, I maneuvered to get a pass to spring-training camps in Florida," he recalls. "My first interview was with Pete Rose--he just ripped the fuck out of me." Upon arriving in Denver, he created a mock issue of The Game Program and used it to attract a core of more than twenty advertisers. For the first home stand of 1994, Lewis printed approximately 30,000 copies of the Program (a twelve-page half-tabloid that features a scorecard and various columns on current baseball issues) and distributed it with the help of employees at independent parking lots surrounding Mile High and of vendors nearer the stadium. The latter have included so-called "Hooters girls"--workers at the Denver branch of the popular restaurant chain known for its buxom waitresses (Hooters advertises in the Program).
It didn't take long for Matthews and Lewis to butt heads. Matthews says that during this year's first home stand, Program vendors would station themselves as close as possible to his salespersons and tell anyone interested in buying a Flier not to waste their money, because the Program is free. If his vendors moved, Matthews says, Program distributors often would follow them around.
Lewis denies that any of this ever happened--sort of. "We've never interfered with his sales--but we can hand out the Program wherever we want," he says. "We look for the most cost-effective places to stand, because it reduces our labor costs. We may stand in places where The Homestand Flier guys are, but this is a marketplace."
The situation came to a head on April 17, when Flier vendor Ron Green got into an argument with Program hawkers. According to Green, he set up shop near the stadium two hours before game time--and ten minutes later, someone offering the Program plopped down only a few feet away. Rather than cause a conflict, he says, he moved south to a spot closer to McNichols Arena. A little more than an hour later, Green says, two Hooters girls armed with the Program took positions on either side of him and began beseeching passersby to take the Program rather than the Flier. "I told them I'd established my space and told them to move on," notes Green, who like other Flier vendors is an independent operator who buys the papers from Matthews. "They took it that I was threatening them and went and told this guy Lewis, who was across the street. And he got in my face and started yelling that he'd do his best to put us out of business--that that was his sole purpose of being there. That's when I told him to get out of my face. And then he went over to a police officer and said he wanted me arrested."
Lewis remembers the incident a bit differently: "Ron Green said that he was going to have his `homeboys' come by and `fuck me up' if I didn't leave him alone. I personally interpreted `homeboys' as `gang members.' I took that threat very seriously."
Lewis filed a harassment complaint against Green the next day. A police investigation followed, but the detective assigned to the case says she was unable to substantiate any of Lewis's charges, and the Denver District Attorney's office took the advice of the officer and chose not to press charges against Green. Nearby souvenir vendors corroborated the story told by Green, who is the father of a thirteen-year-old and is known in the community for fighting against gang violence (he was seen talking about solutions to the gang crisis in a KRMA-TV/Channel 6 program several days after the spat with Lewis). "If something like that happens again, I'm just going to walk away," Green says. "That guy is attempting to put us out of business, and I'm not going to allow that to happen."
Matthews and Lewis have yet to kiss and make up. After the complaint against Green was made, Matthews says, he received a phone call from a lawyer representing Lewis: "He told me that I was not in any fashion to interfere with Mr. Lewis's business, or they would come after me." Subsequent calls were exchanged between lawyers, and an informal agreement calling for vendors to stay a minimum of 15 to 25 yards apart was reached. But Lewis claims that these conversations haven't solved much of anything: "At one of the Cubs games, I saw one of their vendors belittling the Program, saying, `They have to give it away because they can't sell it.'" Even so, he adds, "I hope there can be a truce."
Tensions also remain high in the Flier camp. "I'm very sensitive to what happened to me last year," says Matthews, who insists that his sales are as strong as they were in his inaugural season, Program or no Program. "I don't want my presence to interfere with Mr. Lewis's right to hand out his free publication. But I don't see why there had to be this kind of provocation in the first place.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.