Fire sale for AFL's Firebirds
It's a fire sale for the Firebirds.
As a last-ditch effort to sell the team, Dave Lageschulte, owner of the Arena Football League's Indiana Firebirds, put the franchise up for bid on eBay on Thursday night. As of 12:01 a.m. ET Monday, 36 bids have pushed the auction up to $2.76 million, though the reserve price has not been met.
The winner of the auction, which will close on Sept. 16, receives the AFL rights to the Indiana market, the team assets and the lease at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Firebirds are one of two AFL teams expected to announce that they will fold when the league's board of directors meet on Sept. 20.
"We thought that this was the best way to market the team," said Rich Simeone, general counsel for Lageschulte's businesses interests, which include Hooters franchises. "We're not here to waste time and we hope someone comes through."
After claiming that he has lost millions of dollars in the three seasons he has owned the Firebirds, Lageschulte announced Wednesday that he was shutting down the team. The Firebirds entered the league in 1990 as a franchise located in Albany, N.Y., but moved to Indianapolis in 2001. Lageschulte bought the team in 2002.
A letter from the league's lawyers to eBay forced Lageschulte to list that purchasers "are subject to thorough background and financial investigations and must meet a combined net worth of $60 million."
"If eBay can produce an applicant with a net worth of $60 million, we will consider the application," said Chris McCloskey, a league spokesman. "But any change of ownership requires a three-quarters approval by the board of directors."
If a bidder does come forward, the application materials must be submitted by Sept. 20, when the league's board of directors is scheduled to meet. Sources told ESPN.com that the Detroit Fury will also officially cease operating on that date, though McCloskey declined to comment on the specific agenda of the meeting.
McCloskey did say that the fortune of the Firebirds is hardly indicative of the state of the league. "The league has never been stronger," he said.
Four NFL owners -- Jerry Jones, Pat Bowlen, Arthur Blank and Bud Adams -- own teams in the league, which set an attendance record of 1.9 million fans in 2004. NBC recently renewed its revenue-sharing contract with the league through the 2006 season. Possible expansion teams for the 2006 season include Boston, Miami and Washington, D.C.
As for the Firebirds, Simeone said Lageschulte is looking for someone who has money and has relationships in Indiana, like Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, a billionaire who graduated from Indiana University.
"Yeah, someone like Mark Cuban," Simeone said. "Or Mark Cuban."
Said Cuban: "One team is enough for me."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org
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