Arena football team may move if local buyer can't be found

By Jeff Rabjohns
July 30, 2004

The Indiana Firebirds are for sale and may move to Florida if a local buyer cannot be found in the next 30 days, owner David Lageschulte said Thursday.

Lageschulte is searching for local ownership for the Arena Football League franchise that moved to Indianapolis from Albany, N.Y., before the 2001 season.

If that doesn't happen, Lageschulte, a resident of Fort Myers, Fla., said he would look to move the team, possibly as soon as next season.

"I would like that to be an option," he said. "First, I'd love to try to sell it and keep it in Indiana. We have wonderful crowds and wonderful games in Indiana.

"If I can't, I would try to move it. Florida would be a choice of mine, but that would have to come with league approval."

Lageschulte declined to tell his asking price for the team or what he paid for it. The most recent team to join the Arena league, the Austin (Texas) Wranglers, paid a $16.2 million expansion fee before the 2004 season. The sale of the Georgia Force before the 2003 season was reported at $14 million.

With an influx of NFL ownership and a television deal with NBC, Arena football has seen its franchise values soar.

"It's probably a little early to tell what the market will bear," said David Morton of Sunrise Sports Group, who along with Milt Thompson of Grand Slam III has been contracted by Lageschulte to search for potential owners.

"To compare a new franchise . . . is difficult because this is an existing, established brand."

Morton said he and Thompson are in the early stages of making proposals to potential buyers.

Lageschulte purchased the team in August 2002 from Glenn Mazula, who owned the team since its inception in 1990.

Lageschulte was an investor in the franchise since 1997. From 1993-95, he also owned an Arena franchise known as the Miami Hooters.

One of the originators of the Hooters restaurant chain, Lageschulte is co-CEO of a company that runs 30 restaurants and bars. He also is part owner of a company involved in fitness centers, heavy equipment and environmental remediation.

Lageschulte purchased control of the Firebirds with the intent that he would eventually sell the team.

"We have some pretty stiff deadlines at this point. I love Indianapolis and the Indianapolis market," Lageschulte said. "Unfortunately, I live in Florida and that's the reason I wanted to sell the team or have someone take it over.

"We have to find something in the next 30 days that at least smells like a deal."

Playing in Conseco Fieldhouse, the Firebirds averaged 10,874 in attendance in 2004, 11th out of 19 teams. They went 8-8 and missed the eight-team playoffs. The 16-game Arena league season begins the week after the Super Bowl and ends with the ArenaBowl in June. Arena football drew a record 1.9 million fans this past season, a 21 percent jump from 2003.

The relocation of an Arena franchise must be approved by the league's board of directors, and no team can move into a market area in which the league already has a presence. The Arena league has teams in Orlando and Tampa Bay.

Arena spokesman Tom Goodhines said the league would like to see the Firebirds remain in Indianapolis.

"The Indianapolis market is fabulous, and Conseco Fieldhouse is one of the best, if not the best, venues in the league," Goodhines said.

Call Star reporter Jeff Rabjohns at (317) 444-6183.