Amidst Financial Problems, League Assumes Control of Orlando Predators (UPDATED 8/13 8:00 PM)
ORLANDO -- The Orlando Predators have been in existence for 24 seasons. They have made playoff appearances in 21 of those season, have made the ArenaBowl in seven of the 21, and have captured a pair of championships. Yet when the team takes the field on Saturday night against the hated Jacksonville Sharks, it will do so without an owner. Sources have told ArenaFan.com that David Pearsall, who took managing control of the Preds in the middle of last season, is no longer with the team.
The Predators were stuck in financial hardship when Brett Bouchy left the club in the middle of last season. The team was in the midst of a squabble with the city of Orlando over advertising rights at the Amway Center, and the lease with the team was ultimately voided prior to the outset of the 2014 season.
Financial troubles parlayed with the spat with the city forced the Preds out of their home office in downtown Orlando, as team operations moved about 15 miles up the road to Eatonville. The franchise now plays its home games at CFE Arena on the campus of the University of Central Florida. The drive from the Amway Center to CFE Arena is roughly 30 miles, and that drive could take fans upwards of an hour between the two locations.
Not surprisingly, attendance has dropped and dropped dramatically. Orlando has averaged just 5,081 fans at its first four home games of the season, and it has posted what has easily amounted to be the worst four gates that the franchise has ever had. No regular season game had fewer than 10,000 fans before in the history of the franchise at the Amway Center or at the old Amway Arena.
Though the cost of playing at CFE Arena is significantly less than playing at the Amway, sponsorship dollars are diminished as well. Worse is the fact that the stadium has yet to be at more than a 54.4 percent capacity in any of Orlando's home games, and the team is averaging being at just 50.8 percent of the reported capacity of 9,993. To put that in comparison, the team operated at an average capacity of 68.1 percent in 2013 at the Amway Center, the only time in franchise history that the team had less than 70 percent capacity on average for a season. From 1991-2008, the team operated at approximately 93 percent capacity on average, and it sold out 25 straight home games from 1992 through 1995.
The handwriting was officially on the wall two weeks ago when the Predators beat the New Orleans VooDoo 63-48. For the first time in team history, there were no pyrotechnics prior to the start of the game. Corners are being cut financially for sure, and it mirrors what happened last season for the Chicago Rush in their downward spiral from one of the best franchises in the AFL to one which was forced to move an hour away from its home in an arena which barely seated a few thousand fans to the ultimate end result of the death of the franchise.
Whether the Predators will be able to find new ownership in the next few months could be the key to keeping the franchise. Sources tell ArenaFan that there are multiple interested parties, though none, as of Tuesday morning, have stated their intent to purchase the troubled team.
Orlando becomes the third team in the last 12 months to become league-operated. It's almost a year to the day that the Rush were assumed by the league when David Staral was removed by the league. David Lynd lost control of the San Antonio Talons prior to the start of this season.
The Predators have declined comment on this story.
UPDATE 5:00 p.m.: The Orlando Sentinel published a story refuting ArenaFan's report, as the former Chief Operating Officer of the team, Scot O'Farrell stated, "The team and assets are not technically owned by the league yet. A new ownership group is coming in soon. They're working on it right now."
UPDATE 8:00 p.m.: Head Coach Rob Keefe told Joe Kepner of WFTV that the league does not own the team and that the league is merely going to "facilitate" the transition from the Pearsall group to whomever is next as the ownership of the Preds.
ArenaFan's Tim Capper aided in the compilation of this report.