Basketball expansion franchise may open in Colorado Springs in spring of 2001

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Brett Vickers isn’t giving up. He wants to see a basketball expansion franchise in Colorado Springs by the fall of 2001. And as president of the United States Basketball League, he’s helping make that dream come true.

Vickers spent about three weeks in Colorado Springs last October, talking to community leaders, potential sponsors and Colorado Springs World Arena officials. He is attempting to open this market to a minor league men’s basketball team that would begin play in April 2001.

Community support was terrific, said Vickers, but scheduling the 15 home games of the 30-game schedule wasn’t feasible. The requested Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights were already booked by the USA Volleyball team at the World Arena.

“That was one issue,” said Dot Lischick, general manager of the Colorado Springs World Arena. Other issues included who the team owner or owners would be and the team’s financial status upon entering the market.

“We can make dates available,” she continued. “The door is wide open. Now is the time to start talking.”

Roy Jones, owner of the prospected team from Sarasota, Fla., decided to move his team to Lakeland, Fla., instead, where the seating capacity of 7,000 is about the same as the World Arena and requested arena dates were available.

Although that deal fell through, another is in the making and could come to fruition by this fall. St. Petersburg, Fla., attorney Richard Avis purchased eight franchise expansion teams nearly one year ago from the Milford, Conn.-based USBL and likes what he sees in Colorado Springs.

“You have a beautiful arena … (and) the reception has been very positive,” said Avis. “(We) were very positive about Colorado Springs. We think it would be a great market (because the fans are open to a variety of sports).

“We’ve been scrutinizing certain cities across the country … talking to arenas, civic organizations … and it has been a lengthy process,” said Avis, who would like to see a tip-off date in the spring of 2002, but adds “The process of finding the right city is the critical issue. We need cities that want us.”

Although Lischick was unsure as to how much revenue a minor league basketball team would generate for the community, she estimated that 2,000 to 2,5000 tickets would be sold the first year. Avis said that if he were to bring a franchise to this market, ideal attendance to be about 3,500 per game. This would hit his financial target. Money-making games would sell about 1,200 tickets, he said. The average cost of a ticket would be $7, but would vary depending upon seat location. Floor seats could cost as much as $50 with binocular-zone seats at $5. He would like his prices to parallel that of a family of four attending the movies.

Dave Ogrean, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Sports Corp., compares the potential to that of the Colorado Gold Kings. Although the team may come with a small cadre of fans, most attendees will be locals.

A minor league basketball team would add to the community’s sports menu, but he isn’t sure how well it would be accepted. Although basketball hasn’t been presented to this town, he said, the upside would be reasonably priced tickets.

“For a town that has a long history in hockey and baseball and has its outlet for football, it has never been tested for its basketball appetite,” he said. “I think it’s a pretty good product. We would help promote it strongly.”

Colorado Springs likes its sports, Lischick said, and another sport would be a favorable addition. “People are ready for another sport,” she said. “(The team’s) impact would be determined by the spectators. It would be a great piece of business for the facility.

The USBL presently has two divisions composed of five Southern teams — three in the Midwest and two in Florida — and six Northern teams. With Avis’ eight teams, he could break ground for two additional divisions. He is trying to start a team in Salina, Kan.

Avis’ intent is to open a Western division — perhaps in cities in California and Oregon — and a “bridge” division that could include Colorado Springs, an unnamed city in Texas, Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Cheyenne, Wyo.

“(Avis) likes the Colorado Springs market,” said Vickers. He likes the population base of a half-million people, local media outlets that could cover games, and an affluent community.

Avis could either own the Springs team outright or co-own it with an interested local investor. He is looking for support from businesses in the form of sponsorships and attendance.

He also wants to create a “family atmosphere” so that tickets would be affordable and fans could meet the players.

“We’re not ready to go today. It’s gotta work for us … it’s gotta work for the city.”

The league has about 130 players who hit the courts in the months of April, May and June and play other leagues during the off-season to attract quality players. Some USBL players have gone on to play for the NBA, such as Charley Ward (New York Knicks), Anthony Mason (Miami Heat), Darryl Armstrong (Orlando Majic), Avory Johnson (San Antonio Spurs) and Mark Blount (Boston Celtics).

Now in its 16th year, the USBL teaches incoming franchise owners all marketing aspects. The franchise fee is $300,000 with a $20,000 annual fee to cover expenses such as referees’ wages and administrative franchise costs. After enrollment, the team owner needs about $100,000 in initial working capital. Teams budget about $450,000 year for players’ salaries, building expenses, office expenses, and phone bills to keep the business in the black, said Vickers.

Negotiations should begin within the next few months, said Avis.

“We’ve spent more time looking at Colorado Springs than any other candidate city,” he said. “It all has to work. We’re looking at a map everyday. When we lay a template, it has to work together.”