After being evicted from EnergySolutions Arena on Thursday for not paying rent through six home games this season, the Utah Blaze are expecting a cash infusion from a new investor that will give the Arena Football League team the ability to return to the downtown arena and put a messy situation behind it.
Until then, the Blaze are officially without a home. The team also is receiving financial assistance from the AFL to help meet its payroll obligations.
Blaze owner Kim Brown said Friday she has been courting the investor, an unnamed Chicago-based real estate developer, since March. Brown said the new partner is in the final phase of analyzing the league, the franchise and its finances before officially signing.
“He has told us he’s 99 percent there,” Brown said.
AFL commissioner Jerry Kurz brought the investor to the attention of the Blaze and Brown — who became majority team owner in March. Brown said Kurz is expected to come to Utah next week to meet with the Larry H. Miller Group to continue talks of how the organization can help the Blaze going forward.
“The AFL will do all that is necessary to assist your ownership complete the 2013 season,” Kurz said in an email to the Blaze owner.
The Miller Group gave the Blaze until 5 p.m. last Wednesday to pay a reported $120,000 in rent obligations or be evicted. Once the deadline had passed, the Blaze were no longer active tenants at ESA.
“The Larry H. Miller Group of Companies is very familiar with the challenges of operating sports franchises and has been working with the Utah Blaze in good faith to find a solution to outstanding contractual obligations,” said Linda Luchetti, director of communications for the Larry H. Miller Group in a prepared statement to The Salt Lake Tribune Thursday.
“Because these ongoing issues haven’t been resolved, the Blaze is currently not an active tenant of EnergySolutions Arena. We recognize the tremendous value of the Blaze to the community and hope that the team is able to succeed in fulfilling the terms of their contract and continuing the season at our facility.”
While the Blaze have fallen behind on the rent, Brown said the team — with help from the league — has made payroll throughout the season. She added that the Blaze are not the only franchise in the league receiving financial assistance from the AFL.
When Brown first became a minority owner in December, she said the team was far behind in getting ready for the upcoming season that was three months away.
Brown said the franchise was “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in debt, which included vendors, advertising bills and “a plethora of other things.” Brown also said there were no advancements on advertising or anything resembling a plan for marketing the upcoming season when she joined the organization in December.
The debt the team was carrying was the biggest issue, the owner said.
“I started bridging gaps, and then I figured out I had to hold tide,” Brown said. “Then the arena bills hit, then you start playing, then that’s the major brunt of it. In March, we had our first meeting with this investor, and we could tell it was going to be a windstorm.”
If and when the new investor signs on — which Brown says could happen as soon as Friday — the Miller Group has promised the Blaze re-entry to ESA.
“It’s millions. ... It’s a [significant] amount,” she said of the resources the new investor will bring to the team. “It will get us through this season and allow us to set up a structure where we can start making money for next season. The arena bills are crazy and in our budget, everything will be paid. The back stuff will be paid, anything and everything that we’ve negotiated, everything will be paid.”
Asked if she’s worried about a place to play next Saturday’s scheduled division game with the San Jose Sabercats, Brown said there is no contingency plan.
“They do have a place to play,” she said. “As soon as we have a signature on our contract, they will allow us to come back in.”
Utah Blaze coach Ron James deferred all questions on Blaze finances to the team’s front office.
Kurz was not immediately available for immediate comment.
Shock 80, Blaze 41
The Shock (9-4) routed the visiting Blaze (5-7) in Spokane, Wash., holding Utah scoreless in the second quarter and pouring in 34 points in the fourth.
Jason Boltus, who recently took over the starting QB job from Tommy Grady, threw for 362 yards and six touchdown passes but was sacked five times. Mario Urrutia led the Blaze in receiving with 138 yards and scored three touchdowns.