Owner considers pulling plug on Fever

By Ben Reynolds, Herald staff writer June 25, 2009 

KENNEWICK -- The Tri-Cities Fever could soon be right behind its fans, heading for the Toyota Center exits.

Facing a waning fan base and plummeting revenue, owner Doug MacGregor said he's considering pulling the plug on the franchise if he cannot find some local investors.

MacGregor, who has been the sole owner of the franchise since 2007, said if a local group does not present itself by the end of the summer it is likely the Fever will not return.

"I never say never, but it's very unlikely," he said.

MacGregor said he has been talking with some potential investors but so far no one has stepped forward.

"We are keeping all paths open," MacGregor said. "I have seen teams with local owners and seen a huge difference."

The Fever is the only organization in the af2 in which MacGregor is the sole proprietor. He has ownership stakes in five other af2 franchises -- Corpus Christi, Tennessee Valley, Amarillo, Peoria and Boise -- each of which also has local ownership.

Since MacGregor, who runs the team from his office in Austin, Texas, purchased the Fever from Randy Schillinger and J.R. Carr in 2007, he has made it clear he wanted to find local investors.

Schillinger, who has stayed on as the team's general manager the past three seasons, said he will not return in 2010 because of new business ventures, leaving MacGregor with limited contacts in the area.

The news that this could be the Fever's last season was not a surprise to Schillinger.

"We have been discussing this for a couple of months now," Schillinger said. "We need some people to step up and show their support for the team."

The Fever has been hurt by the downturn in the economy, as evidenced by blank dasherboards around the arena. But the team's biggest blow is coming at the ticket window.

For the first time in three seasons, the Fever announced its first crowd of less than 3,000 for its last home game on June 13. In six home dates this season, the team's average attendance was 3,317.

That is down from an average of 4,621 in 2007 and more than 800 fewer than last season.

A big reason for the sharp decline is the team's poor play on the field. Since making the playoffs in 2007, the Fever has plummeted to the bottom of the West Division standings.

Tri-Cities has won just five of its last 28 games dating back to last season, one that ended with seven straight losses.

It's not just the losses, but also the way the Fever has been losing.

Tri-Cities has lost eight of its 11 games this year by more than 30 points, routinely drawing boos from fans who choose to stick around after halftime.

There also has been a lack of stability with the team, with four head coaches in less than three seasons. And there have been a variety of problems with players off the field.

The Fever has four games left this season, including two home games -- Saturday against Stockton and the final game July 25 against Central Valley.

MacGregor said it's not a dire situation and he's optimistic about finding some type of partner in the coming months. "Hopefully we can get everything resolved by the league deadline," he said.

That gives him until around the end of August to make a decision.

* Ben Reynolds: 509-582-1509; breynolds@tricityherald.com

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