The season-ticket pledges were encouraging, so was the interest in the minority partnerships. But a crucial piece of the puzzle was missing.
“All along, the key piece was attracting a controlling-interest partner,” Dayton Bombers owner Costa Papista said. “And we didn’t do that.”
Papista turned in the Bombers’ membership to the league Thursday, June 25, just prior to the ECHL Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas. The Bombers announced March 30 that they would not play during the 2009-10 season and the club had until Thursday to present a viable plan for the team for the 2010-11 season.
“We have had interest, but we don’t have an attractive financial history and that made it tough,” Papista said. “And the potential investors who have come in and visited also expressed concern about facility options.”
The return of the Dayton Gems was another factor Papista had to contend with.
“It definitely complicated the process, muddied the waters,” he said. “But the Austin (Boulevard) development and possible hockey team there did the same thing more than a year ago when I was talking to potential investors.”
The move means the end of the second-longest tenured team in the ECHL after 18 seasons. Only Johnstown, which skated its 21st season in 2008-09, has a longer history in the league.
History and tradition, however, took a back seat to finances this season as it became clear to Papista, who has owned the team since 2004, that continuing to operate the team was no longer feasible. Bombers attendance, while shy of the league average, remained steady at about 3,600 a game. But group sales and corporate sponsorships, however, took a hit during the 2008-09 season.
The team, which according to Papista has never been profitable, could not continue to play without a significant capital infusion.
“In a different economic situation, I think we could have kept it alive,” Papista said. “But we were always undercapitalized and, in hindsight, I think we would have been better off taking the 2004-05 season off to get off to a stronger start. Maybe we could have made it through this.”
The league could grant Dayton an expansion team. When the league announced the Bombers’ 2009-10 plans, ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna explained that Dayton is a desirable market, especially with teams in Cincinnati and Toledo.
“We very much would like to be back in Dayton and, hopefully, some day we will be,” said McKenna, who was unavailable to comment on Thursday’s developments.