Part Five – Ceasing Operations
The Brahmas and the City of Fort Worth were working under a firm deadline of Sunday, April 30th to come to a lease agreement, but that date came and went with no indication that a working arrangement could be reached.
"We thought the city might come back and give us a deal that might help us," Brahmas General Manager Mike Barack said. "But as it turned out, there were substantial increases which made it impossible for us to play."
By Tuesday morning, the writing was on the wall and in the news. The title of Kelly Morris' article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram spelled out the reality of the situation - Brahmas won'’t play in Fort Worth next season.
Asked to comment, Mike Barack said the Brahmas organization would have an official response soon, but would not elaborate. Fort Worth officials on the other hand, went on the record to defend their position.
"The City and the Brahmas have worked together to bring nine seasons of hockey to Fort Worth," Assistant City Manager Joe Paniagua said. "We are disappointed that we could not reach an agreement with the Brahmas organization in time to accommodate dates for a tenth season.
"I didn't know we'’d get to this point", Paniagua went on. "They just didn’t feel comfortable with the amount of money we were asking for. We had very little room to negotiate downward. Our costs were such that we at least needed to get that minimum amount."
"It'’s a very expensive venture," Public Events Director Kirk Slaughter said. "Just to build the ice takes three days. We want to recapture some of the costs in producing the sport. We’'ve tried to accommodate the Brahmas the best we can, but we are in a situation where we need to cover our costs."”
On May 3rd, the Brahmas organization officially made their decision public with the following statement:
The Fort Worth Brahmas have today announced they have received approval from the Central Hockey League to suspend operations for the 2006-2007 season, effective immediately.
Negotiations for a lease agreement with the City of Fort Worth that would allow the Brahmas to play in the Fort Worth Convention Center and the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum during the 2006-2007 season of play have not been favorable, thus, Brahmas majority owner Stuart Fraser has applied for and received permission from the CHL to suspend the operations. Fraser will continue to own the Brahmas franchise, and although the team will not participate in the 2006-2007 season, the franchise will remain a member in good standing of the Central Hockey League with the clear objective of returning to action in the near and foreseeable future.
“The current lease scenario presented to us by the City of Fort Worth makes it a financial impossibility for us to continue our operations as they currently exist,” Fraser said. “The financial hardships created by significantly increased lease costs combined with limited availability of prime weekend dates for home games made this decision necessary, if unfortunate.”
“Our intention from day one was to play professional hockey and provide affordable family entertainment in the City of Fort Worth,” continued Fraser. “However, at least for the 2006-2007 season, that is no longer a financially feasible option. We intend to aggressively and immediately pursue and consider all available options that will allow the Brahmas to quickly return to active playing status with the Central Hockey League.”
Today’s announcement comes on the heels of nine seasons of play in Fort Worth by the Brahmas. The club’s inaugural season was in 1997-1998, with the first four years of play spent as members of the Western Professional Hockey League (WPHL) prior to the League’s May 2001 merger with the CHL.
“I want to publicly thank our extremely loyal and devoted fan base as well as our committed corporate partners,” Mike Barack said. “We have been very fortunate to have the unwavering support of so many people and businesses over the last nine years.”
Barack went on to say that he believed the Brahmas would be missed in the Fort Worth community.
“Without a doubt, the Brahmas have been proud ambassadors of Fort Worth during our time here. We’ve made hundreds of in-school appearances and executed a phenomenal number of community relations programs across Tarrant County. Additionally, we have made thousands of donations per year to non-profit and charitable organizations throughout the Metroplex. Our efforts to stay active in the community have been constant,” he explained.
Fraser also wanted to go on record with a public commendation of the Brahmas’ front office and the Central Hockey League.
“Our organization has been very fortunate to have so many hard working and dedicated employees. Everyone that has been associated with the Brahmas has put in a tremendous amount of time and energy to benefit this franchise. I would be remiss not to recognize the efforts of all of our staff members that have worked so hard on our behalf over the past nine years, specifically Mike Barack, Naomi DeuFriend, Bill Yates, Jeff Bowerman and Ryan Snider for their many years of outstanding service to the Brahmas,” he stated. “Additionally, I commend the Central Hockey League for their outstanding partnership, guidance and leadership over the years,” Fraser said. “I firmly believe in the CHL model, and have the utmost confidence that the Brahmas will return to action stronger than ever in the near future.”
All players under contract for the 2006-07 season or whose CHL rights were held by the Brahmas immediately became free agents.
Central Hockey League President Brad Treliving asserted the league's commitment to assist the Brahmas in finding a new home.
"We knew the challenges they [the Brahmas] had in front of them," Treliving said. "We believe in the market and we want to find another venue in the area. The most important thing is the market will be and can be supportive of the team."
The Brahmas organization also wanted to make it clear that the team was committed to remaining in the area.
"We just need to be appreciated somewhere," Stuart Fraser told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
"We'll look hard in DFW area and hope to find somebody willing to make us a valued tenant. We've already talked to two different venues seriously. What I'd really like to look into is building a new arena that's for us."
On May 23rd, the Brahmas released the following letter from Fraser.
To the loyal fans, sponsors and supporters of the Fort Worth Brahmas:
As you are all aware by now, the Fort Worth Brahmas have suspended operations and will not be playing hockey during the upcoming 2006-2007 CHL season. This is not a scenario that I envisioned, nor one that I wanted. Our organization was eagerly preparing for the Brahmas tenth season and we had every intention of returning to the ice this October. However, the proposed lease presented to us by the City of Fort Worth for the Fort Worth Convention Center/Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum was unacceptable, and, clearly not in our best interests. The Brahmas made every possible effort to renegotiate with the City of Fort Worth, however, those attempts proved to be futile. I do find it difficult to accept that a “few” people made the decision to ignore the economic and social impact the Brahmas have on our City, but anyone that was present at the Fort Worth City Council meeting on the night of May 9, 2006 can now attest to what our organization has been up against.
I, like you, am very disappointed with our suspension of operations. I joined the Brahmas ownership group in 1998, and since then, have been steadfastly committed to the City of Fort Worth and to the loyal hockey fans of Tarrant County. Brahmas home games have not only provided affordable family entertainment in a safe and clean environment, but also attracted approximately 20,000 visitors annually from outside Tarrant County to the City of Fort Worth. More importantly, the Brahmas have been committed to giving back to the Fort Worth community. We have donated more than a $250,000 in cash and nearly $2.5 million of in-kind donations to local non-profit and charitable organizations. Each year, Brahmas players and staff visit over 50 area schools, leading school assemblies in the promotion of reading, eye care safety, positive choices, self-esteem and the prevention of domestic violence. For the past eight summers, the Brahmas have conducted over 250 free inline and street hockey clinics all across the Metroplex as part of our traveling Blacktop Brahmas program. Our two “Cool School” games in January and December of 2004 enabled over 12,000 Fort Worth ISD fourth grade students to attend a Brahmas hockey game free of charge as part of a school curriculum supported field trip. Annually, over 50 charitable organizations and 10,000 families have attended Brahmas hockey games through our Corporate Care Club.
The Brahmas have also worked jointly with selected corporate partners—Coors, Coca-Cola, Radio Shack, Verizon, Verizon Wireless, Southwest Airlines, XTO and Alcon—to help raise money for charities such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Fort Worth, the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth, and Prevent Blindness Texas. On February 7, 2006, the Brahmas teamed up with the Fort Worth Police Department for a police/fire department charity game that raised several thousand dollars for the family of fallen Fort Worth police officer Henry Nava. And, on a more personal note, I’ll never forget the special donation made to the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund by our great fans and supporters soon after 9/11. Also, I want to make sure to recognize the members of our Fort Worth Brahmas Booster Club for their constant and unwavering support of our entire organization.
Finally, I want to personally thank each of you that have given so much of your time and energy to support the Brahmas hockey club since the team’s inception in 1997. The enthusiasm and passion for hockey shown by our loyal fans has been overwhelming, and for that I am greatly appreciative. Please know that we are working diligently with the Central Hockey League to establish a new home for the Brahmas within the Fort Worth/Metroplex area for the 2007–2008 CHL season. I am hopeful that we will be able make a positive announcement regarding our Brahmas scenario in the immediate future.
Majority Owner, Fort Worth Brahmas Hockey Club
“What happened was very disappointing, and I think the Fort Worth citizens should be aware of how we were treated,” Fraser said later. “Some of the city staff had decided that setting up for hockey was just a pain in the ass. Well, yeah, hockey is kind of a pain in the ass. But the city is going to learn that if you put all your backing behind minor league basketball, you’ll be losing both teams because (that level of) basketball doesn’t draw and never has.”
Meanwhile, back at the Fort Worth Convention Center, the Brahmas were made to feel they couldn't move out fast enough.
“They wanted a timetable for us to get out immediately…as fast as we could leave...they were happy once they knew that we were suspending and not playing’” Barack said. “The faster we could get out, the better and they definitely put pressure on to get things out of the locker room.”
When Kirk Slaughter brought Fort Worth Flyers head coach Sidney Moncrief in to show off the locker room while Brahmas staffers were still cleaning it out, it was evident that the team was no longer welcome.
Mike Barack began the painful process of downsizing his staff until only three people remained; himself, assistant general manager Ryan Snider and their administrative assistant. They rented a storage and warehouse space at a business park in East Fort Worth and moved everything there from the convention center and their offices on Lake Street, terminating the lease where they had worked for the past 10 years.
Snider stayed on through the summer before joining the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League as their director of hockey business operations. Executive Vice-President Bill Yates was hired as the assistant general manager of the Corpus Christi Rayz. Vice-President of Communications Jeff Bowerman went on to become the Sports Information Director for Texas Women’s university.
Refunds were processed to those who had purchased season tickets and the team’s used hockey equipment was sold, mostly to the local area’s adult hockey players.
Coming Up: Blue Line