It happened again in minor league sports. Hockey players were all of a sudden free agents, a coach was looking for a new bench to stand behind and fans were trying to figure out how to watch their favorite sport in person locally. The San Francisco Bulls announced they would close their doors in the middle of the season and lives were greatly affected.
There is one more set of people that never gets mentioned when this happens. Think about the front office employees who now wake up with no paycheck and even worse, very little chance to find a job right away in the field they love.
I despise owners who just close up shop before the season ends. It should be their responsibility to understand the financial perils of owning a minor league franchise. The owners who do this often wake up the next day still full of financial security. The only change for them is one less tax break on their ledger.
Those in the front office selling tickets, scheduling community events, broadcasting, writing press releases, etc. wake up and go online to fill out unemployment information. Then they all contact anyone they know to see who has an opening and where.
The most obvious problem with this is, if you want to stay in the same sport it is very rare that there will be an in-season opening. I understand the business side and the fact nobody wants to lose money, but as human beings I always hope uprooting someone’s life, some that even moved to that city because of your employment would prevail.
I admit this is a very personal topic for me. During my nearly 10 years inside minor league sports franchises I never was with a team that closed the doors midseason, but I did lose a job during a season, and right before one, and after one.
I tried to chase my dream of becoming a professional sports broadcaster and I knew it would not be an easy road. I always joke that with my past I could actually be considered a franchise killer. I do admit that of the five teams I was with only one still exists.
When I was in Fayetteville, N.C., I was told just six weeks before the season by the General Manager that team would not broadcast their games and I could stay on as a ticket sales representative. I got lucky and one of my friends in the business left to pursue other options and recommended me to take his spot. Off I went to Macon, Ga. to start the next chapter.
In my second year in Macon a new local minority owner took over daily operations and basically destroyed the team. A few weeks into his reign sweeping changes were made to save the budget. I was literally let go with no advance warning midseason, a move that the majority owner and team General Manager were unaware was about to take place. Along with me the team’s Assistant General Manager, who was a volunteer and paid for things graciously out of his own pocket in the office was told he would not be welcome in the office. Joining the two of us were two more sales people who were thanked for their service then ushered out.
Unlike many others who have experienced this issue, I got very lucky in Macon because of the fans. Two weeks later they actually put together a fundraising effort and raised enough money to pay for internet broadcasting and some salary for me to finish the season as their broadcaster. No matter what happens in my life I will never forget what the Macon Trax fans did for me, something I know is unique and not the norm when a team makes midseason changes. I also owe Tommy Stewart a lot as the head coach for allowing me to stay on the team bus despite the minority owner banning any such actions.
I went on to other places and of course the road was bumpy throughout, but at least I never had an owner just completely shut everything down before a season ended. I have seen David Waronker, keep teams afloat while bleeding money left and right until the season was over. He made a choice in Miami years ago to stop playing home games and finish his season out on the road. Not the ideal situation but it still kept people employed until the season was over.
Enough of my personal reflection, I know you didn’t come here just for the Adam Minnick story time. Pat Curcio is the latest horrible person of minor league sports in my eyes. He knew going into the season the troubles that were ahead financially for the San Francisco hockey team.
The club spent oodles of money on marketing and arena upgrades during the first season and didn’t get the attendance results expected. Cuts were made before this season and even Curcio admitted in the end they were almost doomed from day one. The hope, there is always the hope in these cases, was a new owner was going to be signed, sealed and delivered during the season. Instead, which seems to always be the case, something fell through, papers never got signed, the lease deal couldn’t be reworked and the “only” choice was to shut the Bulls down in January.
If anyone out there who owns a sports team or is thinking about owning a sports team is reading this I ask, no I beg one thing of you. When you start a season, finish it. If you are holding out hope a miracle is going to happen, stop and shut the doors before the season starts. Show decency and don’t allow individuals to put their faith in you that you will have the doors open and employment around for the season.
Many of the men and women who work in minor professional sports are chasing a dream to reach the highest level. They come to your team, to your city trusting you are giving them a chance to do that.
As a human being, look at your team as a business not just a toy. Be an owner first and a fan second. I promise you are going to lose some money at first and maybe for many years. Be prepared and do some homework on why the city has not had success with teams before or why teams have never tried the city. Remember that owning a team is not just fun, it is real and people’s lives truly depend on your financial commitment to the franchise. If you find the right city, the right sport and the right employees to work for you, success will be had and you will be like the many teams that have been in business for years and years.
The folks in Phoenix and New Jersey are lucky because the NHL has been there to bail them out, minor leagues don’t have that luxury.
Follow Adam on Twitter @Adam_PHN and you can always reach him at email@example.com