Post by 50 Yard Fan on May 25, 2013 8:54:32 GMT -5
Raiders Reassessing Future in Lakeland
LAKELAND | Despite finishing the regular season with a 6-3 record, the Lakeland Raiders might not take part in the Ultimate Indoor Football League playoffs next month.
"We're trying to make a financial decision about playing two games on the road right now," Raiders co-owner and head coach Michael Mink said.
The Raiders, the third seed behind the Florida Tarpons from Fort Myers and the Corpus Christi Fury in Texas, would be on the road for all playoff games even if they win every outing.
Mink said the first playoff game on June 3 at Corpus Christi, Texas, would cost the team $15,000 to $17,000.
"We've got to decide if we're going to accept the playoff invitation or not," said Mink, who has until Friday to make the decision.
Beyond the playoffs, though, the future of the Raiders in Lakeland is unsettled for a variety of reasons.
Mink is concerned about attendance at home games; home dates conflicting with events like the Strawberry Festival and spring break; and what he perceives as unequal scheduling by the league.
"We're trying to decide the future of the Raiders program," he said. "We want to make sure we're fiscally responsible for this team and this organization."
Mink said it's possible the team, which plays at The Lakeland Center, will relocate to another city next season.
Mike LaPan, executive director of The Lakeland Center, said he's not surprised.
"It's been a tough year," LaPan said. "I know he's working hard to try to develop the support to keep it going."
Mink said two cities in the South have called to inquire about meetings. He wouldn't name them because of nondisclosure agreements.
"Our first priority is to stay in Lakeland," Mink said. "The second priority is to restructure our agreement with the Center and the city, and to be feel wanted by them."
He prefers to return for a third season next year.
"My goal when I got here was to not be on the road and be here near my kids," Mink said. "I want the team to thrive in Lakeland."
LaPan said the Raiders have drawn larger crowds than any professional team that called The Lakeland Center home -- the Lakeland Thunderbolts in football; the Lakeland Ice Warriors in hockey; and a basketball team that predated the Ice Warriors.
"He's done a better job at getting people to the games and getting a following," LaPan said. "He's worked extremely hard to make it a viable entertainment option in the community."
LaPan said the Raiders receive a percentage of concession sales and parking, and the deal was adjusted for the team to keep all the season ticket revenue.
"We'd hate to lose the team, certainly," LaPan said. "We've tried to do what we can to give them a favorable deal with the arena."
Attendance at home games has averaged 1,600 at The Lakeland Center, which has a capacity of 5,000. Mink said the team drew an average of 2,100 per game last year, while LaPan said attendance was about the same both seasons.
Mink said three of the Raiders' six home games were on "very tough dates," conflicting with other events in the area.
But LaPan said The Lakeland Center prefers to offer diverse entertainment on weekends, and some long-standing events like the state high school basketball tournaments are booked well in advance.
"Saturdays are premium dates, and it's difficult for us to commit all our Saturdays from February to June for the team, which is what they'd like to have," LaPan said.
Even though the Raiders are 10-3 at home over two seasons, walk-up ticket sales have disappointed.
"Our season ticket base is up, we're just having problems with the walk-up ticket sales," Mink said.
LaPan said Lakeland and Polk County residents are known to flock to Anna Maria for boating and fishing, and to Gainesville for Gator football games, on weekends.
"In a community like Lakeland, it's a challenge for any minor-league sport," LaPan said. "It's tough to build a minor-league team at that level when you're squeezed between Orlando and Tampa."
Mink is also at odds with the league about having to play the Sarasota Thunder twice while the Florida Tarpons didn't play them once.
"It has devalued our product greatly," Mink said. "We lost tens of thousands of dollars on those games."
The Raiders beat Sarasota, a travel team, 78-0 and 90-0 at home.
"It's not good to win games 90-0 as far as your product. We want to be tested. We want our fans to enjoy it," Mink said. "I'd rather have a great game go into overtime. We'd rather have a fight than a non-fight."
Looking ahead, LaPan said the team could do well in Lakeland over time.
"If the Raiders can come back next year, I'm convinced they're at least on the cusp of building it to another level," he said.
Post by 50 Yard Fan on May 26, 2013 0:00:57 GMT -5
We've got to decide if we're going to accept the playoff invitation or not," said Mink, who has until Friday to make the decision.
They have until Friday to decide if they are going or not? What is Corpus Christi suppose to do until then? Say to their fans "We may have a game this weekend. Please stay in town to watch us and don't make any other plans, but we may cancel on Friday?"
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