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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Santa Fe Summary

Mike Easterling of the Albuquerque Journal does a great job this morning breaking down what has been going on out in Santa Fe. Since the article is behind a subscription, I'm posting it here along with my examination of what has been going on. I've seen this sort of scenario play out many times, and this one isn't much different. Fact is there was a lot of truth in the rumors out of Santa Fe this week. By her own admission Lorang confirms the core of the rumor - that she was closing the team - was actually true. That's the most important part of the situation. Any additional details, specifically the "sordid nature" of why the team was folding was of no relevance and unworthy of mention, true or not. Unfortunately, the team allowed itself to become distracted by other elements, when the focus should have been on the core.
RoadRunners Not Running Anywhere, Now

Santa Fe RoadRunners officials issued a statement on their Web site Wednesday denying rumors that the Junior A hockey club was folding and that the team's players would soon be up for grabs in a dispersal draft.

Santa Fe officials said the club remains intact and will play the remainder of this season's schedule.

"The rumors that have circulated are reminiscent of the classic 'fish tale,' where the one that got away was 'THIS big,' '' the statement reads. "There is no 'smoking gun' here. The details of the origin of the rumor are of a business nature, and are NOT of the sordid nature that seems to have become the favored version spread by those not close enough to have first-hand knowledge. The Santa Fe RoadRunners organization regrets the unfortunate spread of rumor and conjecture, but remains committed to its players, fans, and supporters."
I let this go yesterday, but why even acknowledge the "sordid nature" if the truth is simply a business matter? That statement now begs the question "what are they talking about?" I believe yesterday's statement went a little overboard when a boilerplate "things are not as they are rumored, and we intend on finishing the season in Santa Fe" statement would have sufficed.
When reached by phone Tuesday night, team owner Mary Magdalene Lorang said she had grown frustrated with the team's poor financial situation and had given some consideration earlier in the week to folding the team.
So the source of the rumor is the Roadrunners themselves, who seemingly failed to control it and are now shocked and surprised it got out. Right...
"If it was anybody else, they would have given up a long time ago," she said, citing a lack of cooperation and recognition from city and state officials; poor conditions at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center, where the team plays; and miserable attendance.

RoadRunners coach and general manager Scott Langer said Lorang— who confirmed to the Journal on Wednesday that she expects to lose at least $500,000 operating the RoadRunners this season— had begun to question whether she wanted to continue to keep the club afloat in the face of such losses. "There's been a lot of money gone to waste and not a lot of support," Langer said.
Further reinforcement this rumor started within the Roadrunners.
Rumors on Tuesday

Lorang said she had changed her mind and has now decided to continue operating the club through the remainder of this season. But the situation presents a major distraction for a team that is enjoying its best season on the ice in its four-year history.
The lesson here is "if you're thinking of pulling the trigger, don't tell anyone within the organization (or outside it, for that matter)." This "distraction" appears to be entirely self-inflicted and demonstrates a lack of internal control.
Santa Fe is 14-3-3 this year and is second in the North American Hockey League's South Division.

Rumors began circulating on the Internet Tuesday morning that the club was folding, and there were reports that USA Hockey - the organization that oversees the North American Hockey League, of which Santa Fe is a member -— had frozen Santa Fe's roster.

Arch Ecker, the RoadRunners' director of business operations, confirmed the fact that the roster was frozen Tuesday after rumors of the team's demise took flight, but he said the freeze was lifted on Wednesday. He described that move as a normal precautionary measure taken by USA Hockey whenever there is a potential for problems with a franchise to prevent the widespread sale of its players.

Reached by telephone Wednesday afternoon, NAHL Commissioner Eric Krupka said a meeting of the league's executive committee took place Tuesday to address the issue.

"We just wanted to see what was going on, and if the team was going to fold, we wanted to have a contingency plan in place," he said.

Krupka said he had spoken to Lorang several times in the past couple of days and had received assurances that the franchise would continue to operate through the end of the season.

Krupka said the "sordid nature" of the rumors alluded to in the team's statement involved the personal life of Lorang, which he said was of no concern to him. "I don't care about any of that," he said. "She's one of our best owners."
Again with the acknowledgement? Look kids, I'm no PR genius, but sometimes you're better off not addressing them. I think this was one of those times.
Team takes a toll

Lorang said only that her personal life and family have suffered since she took over the team late last season.

"I don't think it's fair," she said. "I don't think people understand the enormity of owning this team."

Lorang said that in addition to the money she has poured into the franchise, she is billeting five players this season and is spending $2,000 every two weeks on food alone to feed the players.

But she said that in spite of her financial losses and the time it takes to run the team, she doesn't regret buying the RoadRunners and credited the hard work of her coaching and marketing staffs— and especially her players, who have the league's second-best winning percentage right now.

Team captain John Stoddard said he and his teammates were "shocked" when they began hearing the rumors Tuesday morning, especially when they began to consider the possibility that the team would be broken up and that the players would be scattered around the league.

The club is idle this weekend, and after Wednesday morning's practice, many of the players began leaving town to enjoy a weekend with their families. Stoddard was on his way home to San Diego Wednesday afternoon when he was reached by phone and asked to talk about the effect the rumors were having on team morale.

"We've been having a tough week with all the stuff that's been going on," he said. " ... The initial reaction was 'What's going on?' But we've been reassured by our coach, owner and marketing guy. Everybody's stayed positive."

'I'm here for you'

Stoddard said he was glad the situation developed during an off week so he and his teammates wouldn't be dealing with a major distraction as they prepared to play two or three games in as many nights.

Lorang said she spoke to the players after the rumors became public.
Why wait until then when the the source of the report (not rumor, since Lorang admitted she was close to folding the team) was clearly internal, and odds are the kids knew before it got out in public? Perhaps it was the kids themselves who spread the report. Can't blame them, since they're the ones facing the worst impact of such a move. But again, would have addressing this internally have prevented this entire mess?
"I told them, 'I'm here for you, and I've made a commitment and I truly love all of you,' '' she said. "I'm human, and I'm very, very tired. I'm exhausted, in fact."

Langer said this week's rumors caught him a bit off guard, focused as he is on winning a championship.

"I didn't expect this, especially as well as this season has been going (on the ice)," he said. "But junior hockey tends to be a year-to-year experience. What's happened over the last 30 hours or so has been very frustrating, but I'm glad things worked out for the best."
Sorry Scott, but you can't claim to have been blindsided here. Even if the premature reporting of Lorang's contemplation of folding was not augmented by a lot "sordid" extracurricular discussion, the concerns and issues involving the Roadrunners both this season and throughout the franchise's history are nothing any reasonable person can expect to be surprised by. Krupka's comments, both past and below, support that.
As for the future of the club in Santa Fe beyond this season, it doesn't appear too bright. The RoadRunners continue to rank near the bottom of the league in attendance, as they have every season since moving to town in September 2004, and have few sponsors. In an interview posted on the NAHL Web site on Wednesday, Krupka -— who earlier this season said Santa Fe is not a market that's going to work for hockey -— praised Lorang for her willingness to continue to put money into the club, but he said it was "obvious" the situation in Santa Fe is not working.

At the end of the season, he said, "We'll re-evaluate how she feels and how we as a league feel" about the franchise's future, he said.

Langer said any determination about the club's future here would be up to the league and Lorang, while Lorang said only that she would make her decision when the season was over.
With all due respect, the end of the season is too late. If this team is going to relocate, the process needs to start now. The Roadrunners are a lame duck team and everyone knows it, and it's not as though the team has any fans to alienate. My experience is that a team becoming a lame duck doesn't have a major impact on attendance - the Tornado moving from North Richland Hills to Frisco being a good example. That it's not affecting their on-ice performance is a testament to the maturity of their players.
"We have to look at this in a realistic way," she said. "Who am I providing entertainment for, besides a few housing parents and a couple of fans?"


Comments on "Santa Fe Summary"


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (11:04 AM, November 16, 2006) : 

At least these guys can go through the season KNOWING that next year, if they're still eligible, they will be playing in a different city. Better than what the Helena, Bozeman, and Billings guys dealt with last season.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:21 PM, November 16, 2006) : 



Anonymous Anonymous said ... (6:52 PM, November 17, 2006) : 

any rumors yet about them moving to a texas market like el paso, san angelo or houston (maybe?)


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (1:38 AM, November 19, 2006) : 

With El Paso drawing 900+ each home game it would seem to be the logical place to relocate. Rhinos sure to be a victim of their own success.


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