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VooDoo franchise certainly worth saving in NOLA

Adam Markowitz
Tuesday July 14, 2015


As expected and as ArenaFan reported on Sunday, the Arena Football League formally announced on Tuesday that it has taken over operations for both the New Orleans VooDoo and the Las Vegas Outlaws.

History will tell you when the AFL steps in to take over a team and try to place an owner, the results are iffy at best. When the league under Jerry Kurz placed an owner, things like this or this have happened. Less fortunate franchises have just merely disappeared after getting league assistance, a la the San Antonio Talons after last season. Others have elected to drop into lower leagues just like what the Iowa Barnstormers did when they moved to the IFL for 2015.

There is one success story to tell, though. The Orlando Predators were under league control for much of the 2014 season after a failed ownership stint led by David Pearsall. The league took control and began searching for a new owner. The search ended with David Siegel purchasing the team.

Since then, Siegel has restored Orlando's franchise for sure. The Predators are back at the Amway Center after a season playing on the campus of UCF, and though they are having their worst season of attendance in their history while playing in Orlando's premier arena, there is no shame in their average turnstile count of 10,822 fans per game.

With apologies to the Outlaws, they're a lost cause as I see it. The city of Las Vegas is a horrible sports town due to the fact that there are so many more transients than residents on a regular basis, and the locals who are there don't want to go near the Strip to get to games at the Thomas & Mack Center. There's a reason that there are no major sports teams in Sin City.

Furthermore, I've long preached that cities which have failed with the AFL in the past shouldn't get new AFL teams. Las Vegas was an abject failure twice in this league, once with the Las Vegas Sting (who averaged 5,733 fans per home game at first the MGM Grand then the Thomas & Mack), who moved to Anaheim after two seasons in 1994 and 1995, and once with the Las Vegas Gladiators (who averaged 8,979 fans per home game, first at the Thomas & Mack, then at the Orleans Arena), who moved to Cleveland after five seasons in 2003-2007.

The Outlaws were more or less bulled into playing this season when it became clear that both the San Antonio Talons and the Barnstormers weren't going to be in the AFL in 2015, and they were put together far too quickly to legitimately work.

The VooDoo though, are worth saving.

The city of New Orleans is a fantastic town. We know that Louisianans love their football; just look at how many people they cram into Tiger Stadium for LSU football or how many go to Saints games at the Superdome. This is the South. It's SEC country. Football is a culture down here.

Furthermore, there's proof that New Orleans works for the AFL. The two years the New Orleans Night existed, the team drew relatively well – never worse than 7,425 fans at the Superdome for games over two seasons. The first incarnation of the VooDoo was awesome when Tom Benson owned the team, too. Sure, there were ties to the Saints at that point, but you're telling me that a team which averaged over 15,000 fans per game for four seasons can't prove to sustain itself seven years later?

You don't need to be a genius to figure out what's wrong with the VooDoo right now.

No disrespect intended to Dan Newman, but he was the last one standing of the de facto af2 owners when the league was reborn in 2010. All of the rest of the previous af2 owners either sold their teams, moved their teams into lower leagues or folded, and many tried moving once before folding.

That's what happened with the VooDoo. Even though you won't see it in their official record books, this team currently on the field isn't really the New Orleans VooDoo. It's really the Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings.

The Battle Wings were around for a good, long time in the af2, as they played from 2001 through 2009, then "graduated" up to the AFL in 2010 before moving to New Orleans. They never had great attendance, averaging less than 5,000 fans per game in each of their seasons outside of their expansion year.

After a bad 2010 season which saw the team average 3,967 fans in attendance and famously had its quarterback not make the road trip to Tampa in the middle of that season, Newman ceased operations with the Battle Wings and opened up shop in New Orleans once again as the VooDoo.

"The reason this is happening is the Arena Football League recognizes how passionate the New Orleans market is about football. Proof of that is the success of the Saints and the success of the VooDoo when they were around," Jason Coffel, then the team's vice president of operations, told NOLA.com.

But unfortunately, it wasn't just a matter of "build it, and they will come."

The VooDoo did have some moderate success at the turnstiles in 2011. They averaged over 8,100 fans per game in spite of their 3-15 record, and they topped out at 9,359 fans in their regular season finale. Then again, many of their games were on local television at that point as well. There were also billboards around town at times, and there was at least some in the way of advertising being done.

What's left now just four years later is basically just a shell of a franchise hanging onto the hopes that the VooDoo name can carry it through each and every season.

Newman has completely stripped the staff down. Literally, all that's left working for the VooDoo right now is a general manager (Brandon Rizzuto), football operations (Hayley Asaro) and public relations (Chip Merritt). There are a few interns and two ticket sales representatives.

Games are no longer on television. There isn't a lick in the way of advertising out there in the entire New Orleans area.

Not surprisingly, attendance has hit an all-time low for the franchise as a result, and many of the games now have fewer in attendance than the Battle Wings had when they were in Shreveport.

But that doesn't mean that matters can't be revived in New Orleans. A prospective owner will surely need to open up their wallets just a bit. In a report in the Orange County Register, each team in the AFL made an estimated $2 million in revenues, per AFLPU executive director, Ivan Soto.

Clearly, the VooDoo are on the lower end of that scale just based on the fact that they have the lowest attendance in the league. And, even with that, ends aren't being met, which is why the league has had to step in and pay bills.

Just based on my accounting background and knowledge of some of the ins and outs of the financial side of the Arena Football League, I would guess that it would take an owner willing to come in with no more than $5 million to save this franchise. $2 million or so might be enough to get started.

Of course, raising $5 million is really easy to say knowing that I don't have a stake in the team or that type of money lying under my mattress. However, there are plenty of people in New Orleans who do, and it only takes one (or one group) to save this franchise.

It would surely be unrealistic to believe that the VooDoo could ever return to 16,000 people in the Smoothie King Center. There is just too much ill-will from the past, and too many fans have been turned off by cost-cutting measures. Plus, no matter what any AFL executives might tell you, the product on the field just isn't what it used to be back in the mid-2000s. A lesser product will have lesser demand.

The New Orleans Pelicans averaged 16,677 fans per game in 2015. The New Orleans Zephyrs of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League averaged 4,791 fans per game in 2014. Theoretically, the VooDoo should fall somewhere in the middle, knowing that their games are being played mostly on the weekend.

Go look at what other franchises have done who were successful in the mid-2000s. Orlando went from averaging around 13,000 fans per game then to around 11,000 fans per game now. Tampa Bay dipped from around 15,000 fans on average to just under 12,000 on average, and there could have been 18,000 people at the game this past week against Orlando had Mother Nature not interfered. Arizona went from around 11,000 per game to just over 10,000 per game. San Jose and Philadelphia took bigger dips of around 4,000 fans per game on average from the mid-2000s until today.

However, if the VooDoo were able to "just" lose we'll say 5,000 fans per game from what they averaged through 2008, you'd still be talking about a conservative 10,000 fans per game. That's at least 6,000 more tickets sold per game, and at an average price of around $12 per ticket -- just shy of $650,000 in revenue for the season.

If you believe Soto's $2 million of income per year estimate, that's 32 percent of a team's gross revenue for the entire season. We're talking tangible numbers here.

I've been one to be down on markets all across this league. I don't believe that teams in places like Atlanta, Chicago, Milwaukee, Salt Lake City… pretty much anywhere which had an AFL team which completely floundered before its exit… would ever work again, and the league would be foolish in my estimation to try putting teams in those places. But this market in New Orleans, though clearly poisoned by the cost-cutting measures of Newman, doesn't have to just die the same death that all those cities I mentioned before did.

This is a market worth saving, and it's a market that the AFL badly needs to avoid basically cutting off the three Florida teams from the rest of the league. It would behoove commissioner Scott Butera to try to keep business going in the Bayou for as long as he can before pulling the plug in an effort to find New Orleans' version of David Siegel.


 
Adam Markowitz is an accountant and a freelance sports writer living in Orlando. As a Florida State graduate with degrees in music and history, the garnet and gold will forever be a part of him, but he bleeds the black and red of the Orlando Predators like none other. Adam has been following the AFL since 1991 and has been at well over 200 games, including 16 ArenaBowls. You can follow Adam on Twitter @AFLGuru.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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