Teri Carr, who normally watches a Tri-Cities Fever home game by running around the Toyota Center building making sure things are running smoothly, told her staff she would be sitting still at the final home contest June 8.
She wanted to sit with her husband, J.R. Carr, and enjoy this season’s home finale against the Wyoming Cavalry.
The Carrs, who helped create the franchise back in 2005, stepped away for a few years, then again became owners of the Indoor League team the past four seasons, have been torn on whether to keep the team running for the 2014 IFL season or shut things down.
Teri Carr said J.R. is leaving the decision up to her, and she has been on an emotional rollercoaster ride for over a month trying to make a decision. But she has given herself a deadline for next week to make that call on the Fever.
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Part of deciding is finding out what potential fans and sponsors want.
“I need to know if this means enough to the Tri-Cities to keep doing it,” Carr said. “I know it means a lot to the fans and sponsors who have stayed with us. But to anyone else, what does it mean to them?”
Meanwhile, the front office is carrying on like it’s business as usual.
During the interview, the Fever staff was in the next room, brainstorming and coming up with ideas on how to improve sales, fully aware of Carr’s predicament.
Financially, owning and running a minor-league professional sports franchise is hardly lucrative.
Teri Carr says the Fever has “not once turned a profit.”
And this hasn’t been a spur-of-the-moment problem that just popped up, she says.
The realization hit after the team’s 39-35 road loss to the Colorado Ice on May 18.
“I knew we weren’t going to make the playoffs that night,” she said. “After that game I went back to the hotel and called J.R. During our talk I mentioned whether it was going to work to keep going. It caused me to reflect on the season and what it’s cost me, and I don’t mean financially either.”
She’s referring to her investments of time and emotions.
“I absolutely love what we do here,” said Carr, who was named the league’s executive of the year in 2012. “It’s not easy. It’s a hard job. I do it because I love it.
“But at some point you can only give so much. There are a lot of things I can do with my time that I use for those 50 to 60 hours a week with the team. A lot of things to do for the family, friends and other service groups.”
So that night in Colorado was a long, sleepless night.
“I sat up in bed and cried for some time,” she said.
On the record, Carr won’t say exactly how much the team’s losses are, but she does admit that losses each season have been in the six-figures range.
An IFL team gets just seven shots during the regular season to make an impression on new fans.
A team’s payroll is by far the biggest part of the budget. Player housing and travel are next, at one-sixth each parts of the budget.
The Fever’s season average in attendance this past season was 2,789 — down from the 2012 campaign. The magic number to break even, she says, would be 4,200.
Carr said breaking even would be a dream, but she said she would be pretty happy to just have a smaller loss.
She doesn’t buy into the team’s 1-6 start having an affect on the turnstiles.
“The first game of the season (when the team was coming back from a title game appearance the season before) there were 730 less fans than at the previous season opener,” Carr said.
And she believes that of all of the events in the Toyota Center, attendance was down this past year for everything.
“But I don’t think it’s a win-loss thing,” she said. “It’s more the rest of the community coming.”
A community that the Fever has been deeply involved in, especially the past four seasons.
“Seventy-nine percent of our budget goes back into the community,” she said. “The money I can’t spend here involves league fees, travel costs, certain parts of payroll, workman’s comp. But we do a lot of donations to events, silent auctions and causes. We try to get to as many as we can.”
And this is her dilemma: her head is saying one thing; her heart is telling her another.
“What I’m thinking on the days I know I want to keep it going is my staff, the fans and sponsors that have supported us. I appreciate them,” Carr said. “Then I think about the football players who come in and how this is giving them a chance. (And shutting it down) is hard.”
But the daily grind is taxing.
“There are moments where I say to myself it’s not worth it anymore,” she said. “Then there are moments where I run into fans who thank me for keeping the team here. Or I get a text message from one of the players.”
So she’s looking for a response from the community.
“We do the right things, we are competitive,” Carr said. “Even the losses we had this year, we were close. Obviously we have good citizens in the community, so that’s not a problem. So what is it? Does it matter to anyone else?
“I want to know from the people and sponsors that have not been here if this is important.”
For those who want to respond, call the Fever office at 509-222-2215, or email Carr at email@example.com.