YOUR INDOOR INSIDER
Story updated 4:12:04 PM 02/21/2018
Teams fold all the time, that’s the sad reality of arena/indoor football. Each time a team folds it has a corrosive effect on the rest of the league and, by extension, the sport. This past season well known, long-standing teams like the Spokane Shock, Colorado Crush, Wichita Falls Nighthawks, Monterrey Steel, Tampa Bay Storm and many others turned off the lights and shut their doors leaving fans with nothing but questions and skepticism. One owner recently told AF Insider that it’s difficult to go back into a market once a team, or multiple teams, have permanently decamped. While the Storm, the 2017 Arena Bowl runner-up, and the last original AFL team raised eyebrows when they went dark, other than the IFL/CIF shootout this winter, it is the Vermont Bucks who’ve made fans shake their heads and wonder what the heck is going in with arena football.
Last year the Bucks were the best team in the Can-Am Indoor Football League. They ran away with the league and easily won the championship. After the season ended the league announced it was merging with the Arena Pro Football League and the Supreme Indoor Football League to form the new American Arena League. The AAL would consist of 13 teams playing a 9 game league schedule. Teams were free to add some out of league games to generate extra revenue and in at least one case bring the perceived rivalry to the field. Everything seemed to be full steam ahead for Vermont. Their 2018 arena contract though still unsigned, was just a formality requiring a signature. They had a few sponsors and were working to bring in more, and they were selling season tickets. Understandably, the 2017 team didn’t have enough sponsors and fans to be profitable, but that is the way of most new small businesses across most industries.
At the very end of December 2017, Bucks owner, and NASCAR driver Tim Viens, decided to sell the team. As a high ranking executive in the AAL and the owner of the Atlanta Havoc, he decided the time was right to shift his focus southward, closer to his home. Viens lives in South Florida and Burlington, Vermont is a long way from home. Kyle Jennings and Thomas Sturgis had formed a group and offered to buy the team. The contract was written up and signed by Viens, Jennings, and Sturgis and the pair took over operations. Here’s where things started to fall apart. In order to qualify for the purchase, the pair had to show they had enough money to back up their signatures. According to AAL President Jack Bowman, and Tim Viens they showed a letter from their bank with at least $78,000 in their business account. The AAL plan is to give teams a chance to succeed by keeping expenses low. With most AAL teams budget's clocking in at under $300k per season, $78k seemed like an ample amount of money to keep the franchise moving forward. However, before the end of January 2018, less than a month after taking over operations, the team informed the AAL they would not be playing in 2018. With schedules already made, the league had to scramble to find a replacement. Tim Freeman the owner of the Peach State Cats had attempted to enter the league earlier in the year and now found himself with an invitation to the party and he RSVP’d in the affirmative. But what happened in Vermont? Why did the new owners buy the team and then fold it within a month?
What ensued has proven to be a scrum of he said/she said accusations and acrimony. AF Insider learned the AAL had not yet approved Jennings and Sturgis as league owners. AAL execs Jack Bowman and Tony Zefiretto told AF Insider the owners had difficulties completing the league questionnaire. When asked to elaborate, they both declined. The questionnaires reveal potential owners private information, including certain pieces of their finances. Both Bowman and Zefiretto felt it was necessary to keep this information confidential. When asked if it was likely the new Vermont group would be approved they both said no decision had been reached either way because the process was incomplete at the time of the sale. Someone with knowledge of the process, speaking on condition of anonymity said it was unlikely Sturgis and Jennings would gain approval. If true, the new owners would not be invited to join the league, wouldn’t that invalidate the sale? The answer to that, it turns out, is a bit tricky and is one of the things in apparent dispute.
As the owner of the Vermont Bucks, Viens had the legal right to sell the LLC to anyone he wanted at any time. The sale of the team is not, at least as reported, tied to league affiliation. Under Viens, the Bucks were legally affiliated to the AAL, but it seems that particular agreement didn’t transfer with the team. The Bucks new owners likely believed it did when they bought the team, but when they found out it didn’t, and their approval by the league was in doubt, it most likely helped push them towards dissolution. If there was a lease agreement and operating funds in place, why would a team not get league approval? The answer lies in the difficulties the new Bucks owners had completing the questionnaire. Without the league, or the Bucks willing to speakon the record, those answers will take time to come out.
What we’re left with is speculation. Obviously, $78,000 isn’t enough to run the team for an entire season so how were the new owners planning to do it. The likely answer is they were planning on using the Bucks income stream to cover operating expenses. Viens had sponsors and ticket sales in place so there should have been some money available to the new owners. The question is how much money was there and what happened to it after the sale was completed? So far, 2018 season ticket holders have not received refunds and no corporate sponsor we spoke to had either. One of the sponsor’s said they were awaiting a return call which never came and eventually found out through social media the team had ceased operations. Since the Vermont group had not finished the vetting process, the league has no information about how much money there was or where it went.
To be clear, AF Insider in not taking sides in this matter. We have no hard information about how much sponsorship and ticket sales money there might have been, or who currently has it. We do know the contract between Viens and the Jennings/Sturgis group was legal and completed. Jennings own facebook entries represented himself as the owner of the Bucks and, up until they folded the team, they seemed to have been acting in good faith. Viens has a signed contract handing the team over to the new group and, unless he has through some purposeful, provable action, knowingly acted in bad faith the team belongs to Jennings and Sturgis. Viens indicated, on the record, that the arena lease was a lock and accepted by the league, and the team had low or no debt load. If that’s true then it will take lawyers to sort things out.
One thing which is certain is the Bucks are not playing this season and it’s extremely unlikely they will ever play again. It’s too bad because there is a trail of disappointed fans who are now left without their team and little hope of getting a new one anytime soon.
AF Insider reached out to Mr. Jennings for this story and after a tentative initial agreement to speak on the record, he informed us he had changed his mind and would not make any comments.
Look what the Richmond Roughriders left laying around!
During the 2017 season the Richmond Roughriders realized their playing field needed upgrading. With a new season, in new league, quickly approaching, they decided to see what was available on the used market and learned the LA KISS field was available. The KISS folded after the the 2016 AFL season and the Roughriders decided to bring in their old field and rebrand it with their logo and sponsors. The KISS logo on the 25 yard line as well as in the endzones will be covered with the Roughriders logo and there's a rumor the goal lines might be Riders Neon Green!
On The Record
Trust the Process Athletics Players Signed to Contracts
Mike Everett : Baltimore Brigade
George Evans: Sacramento Rush,
Davion Shelton: Sacramento Rush
Davarus Shores: AZS UWM Olsztyn Lakers (Poland)
Derrick Santee: New England Bobcats
Trevor Pugh: New England Bobcats
Jacksonville Sharks Quarterback Tommy Grady
Tommy Grady College Career
Completions: 77 Attempts: 143 Yards: 846 TD: 6 INT: 6 QBR: 109
|Date of birth:||March 18, 1985|
|Place of birth:||Huntington Beach, California|
|Height:||6 ft 7 in (2.01 m)|
|Weight:||245 lb (111 kg)|
|High school:||Huntington Beach (CA) Edison|
|* Offseason and/or practice squad member only|
|Roster status:||League suspension|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career Arena statistics|
|Player stats at ArenaFan.com|
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