Siegel the Biggest Win for AFL, Orlando Predators
ORLANDO -- Statistically speaking, the Orlando Predators pulled out their biggest victory of the season on Monday night over the Iowa Barnstormers 66-33. In the real world though, the team's best win actually came off the field, as David Siegel, the CEO and founder of Westgate Resorts has purchased the club.
Siegel's growth and plight were both well-documented in the 2012 film, "Queen of Versailles." Siegel's worth, which topped off around $1 billion in 2007 according to Forbes, was depleted quite a bit into the early-2010s, but with the recovery of the real estate market, Siegel has regained his wealth.
It's that wealth which is going to bring a new-found stability to the Predators, something which the club has had absolutely none of over the course of the last several seasons. Just in the last calendar year, Brett Bouchy and David Pearsall have each been the managing partner of the club, and for the past two and a half months, no owner has been in place and the league has been paying the bills.
On top of that, there has been all sorts of turnover with the team as well. Rob Keefe is the fourth head coach for the Preds in the past four seasons and the fifth head coach since 2008 the franchise has had. Jason Boltus and Bernard Morris are the eighth and ninth starting quarterbacks that Orlando has trotted out since 2011, and they're playing on a roster which turned over 19 men from last season's team.
Even the team's home games have been erratic, as the club moved from Amway Arena in 2010 to the new Amway Center in 2011 and finally to CFE Arena for the 2014 season.
The fact that the Predators, who were arguably the most consistent franchise in the AFL from 1992 through 2008, have had so much instability all throughout the organization has been borderline unfathomable. Now, Siegel brings a bit of hope back to a team which badly needs some momentum after what, from a business standpoint, has been its darkest season in franchise history.
Siegel brings a promise of marketing and creative thinking to the Predators, something which has been completely missing this year. There has not been a single billboard put up around town, nor has there been a peep on television or radio advertising the team. The hope with the move to UCF was to bring a "party atmosphere" back to the Predators by enticing students to come to the games, but those attempts have been relatively fruitless.
With CFE Arena drawing just an average of 5,030 fans per game, it's safe to say that the biggest part of this deal is the fact that the club will be moving back to the Amway Center once again in 2015. This will add a ton of exposure to the club, if for no other reason than that they will become a part of the regular rotation on the electronic billboard outside of the Amway Center which overlooks I-4 right in the heart of downtown. The location of the arena is also more conducive to fans from the heavily populated west side of Orlando to travel to games. Many were turned off by the idea of driving through downtown to get all the way to the campus of UCF, which could have easily been over an hour commute in traffic.
Tailgating, another massive complaint of Preds fans, will be an alleviated problem as well. Fans can tailgate at the Amway Center right underneath the I-4 overpass, or there are tons of bars and restaurants within walking distance of the arena. Good luck trying to find any booze (well, booze you can purchase, anyway) on a college campus. Tailgating was also strictly prohibited at most areas on the campus of UCF.
Lastly, there is a legitimacy that comes with playing at the Amway Center. All of the other sports teams in the area, including the ECHL's Orlando Solar Bears, play at state of the art facilities, and Orlando City SC, which will be joining the MLS in 2015, has a soccer-specific stadium being built as well.
Siegel told the Orlando Sentinel that he has a plan in place to help pack the Amway Center, including giving tickets to his over 8,000 employees, veterans, underprivileged children, and even students who get good marks on their report cards.
That said, challenges are clearly still ahead for Siegel. Most in Orlando will look at this season as the second lost year for the franchise since 2009, and getting those fans to return to the Amway Center for 2015 is going to be a challenge in and of itself. Securing sponsors has always historically been a problem for the Preds, especially since the move to the Amway Center which has allowed the Orlando Magic to essentially call the shots for all of the advertising that all of the tenants of the building are able to get. Siegel, a true power player on the Orlando political scene, could perhaps find it easier than Bouchy and Pearsall before him to negotiate deals, especially with the giant company of Westgate Resorts sitting behind the 79-year old. That said, those sponsors still have to be nailed down, as they are going to be the lifeline of the team and the only key to profitability.
The media in Orlando as well, has largely been indifferent to the Predators for the last five seasons. ESPN 580 AM, arguably the most listened to station for sports talk in Orlando, has just one local show during the week, and Scott Anez has made no bones about the fact that the AFL isn't for him, thus he won't be covering it. Though there are interviews from time to time on the other sports talk stations in Orlando, most treat the Predators as a blip on the radar rather than something that has to be talked about. Even on this day when there is literally nothing going on in mainstream sports short of the MLB All-Star Game, not a peep was heard from any of the sports talk shows this morning about Siegel or the Preds.
The Orlando Sentinel doesn't have a dedicated beat writer to the team, and the news stations, which all used to send cameras out to all of the games, haven't largely been seen for years.
In fact, ArenaFan has been one of the only media outlets consistently covering the team for the better part of the past two decades.
With no disrespect meant to Bouchy or Pearsall, the media will pay attention when Siegel has something to say. The fact that he owns this team and is going to be marketing the heck out of it is going to draw the attention of the media, and that in and of itself should provide a massive boost of exposure for a franchise which has had virtually none of it in the last 12-16 months.
Never before has a team in the AFL v2.0 era survived after being assumed by the league. Teams like Milwaukee, Chicago and Utah, all of which needed league assistance ended up going by the boards and will likely never be heard from again. Had Siegel not come along and invested his money into this franchise, the Predators likely would have fallen the same way that all of these previous franchises have.
However, Tuesday's press conference introducing Siegel is clearly the dawn of a new day for the Orlando Predators. They've got a new, committed owner who has a plan to get this team back on top as one of the premier franchises in the Arena Football League, and that is as big of a win as any team in this league has ever gotten.