The fortunes of the Sockers and the Major Indoor Soccer League took yet another turn Monday, when it was learned that a group of Tacoma investors will attend an owners' meeting today to discuss restarting the Stars' franchise.
Tacoma, along with the Chicago Sting, announced Friday that it was folding. That prompted Ron Fowler to withdraw his bid to purchase the Sockers in a federal bankruptcy court.
Fowler had said he would go forward with his offer only if the MISL could field at least eight teams next season. The departure of Chicago and Tacoma left only seven, including the Sockers.
"If there are eight teams, we will go back to court with a bid," Fowler said.
The new seven-member group has been organized by Tacoma businessman and restaurateur Jim Manza, who flew to Cleveland Monday night with former Tacoma Coach Alan Hinton. Ron Cady, Socker president, flew to Cleveland Monday for today's meeting.
"It's good to hear that somebody will be there representing them," said Fowler, who has stayed in San Diego because of other business commitments. "I had heard previously that a group from Tacoma would be making a phone presentation. But, if somebody's there, it would seem like they mean business."
Hinton, who coached the Stars from 1985 to 1987, said the group is serious about trying to keep soccer in Tacoma.
"Jim Manza called and asked me to get involved, and I want to be involved," said Hinton, currently part-owner of the Tacoma Stars' soccer centers. "I feel the city of Tacoma has earned the right to host a major league soccer franchise. Right now, we're all concerned with doing whatever we can to make sure the team stays here."
Manza's group will ask the league for a team free and clear of the folded Tacoma franchise, which was owned by John Best. The group is also expected to ask that the league allow Tacoma's former players to remain with the new team. That could draw opposition from the MISL Players' Assn., which could argue that Tacoma's players are now free agents.
"There are definitely some things that would have to be worked out," Fowler said. "But, at this point, I can say that things look a whole lot better now than they did Friday."
Manza, 43, said he is hopeful of eventually expanding his investment group to 20 people.
"The people I've talked to are willing to invest if there's a good chance for them to break even," Manza said.
Last season, Tacoma averaged 10,400 spectators per game, but the team has always lacked corporate business sponsorship. After losing nearly $9 million during the last five years, Best and his organization folded.
Fowler called it quits Friday, but Peter W. Bowie, a federal bankruptcy judge, issued a restraining order, keeping Fowler's bid on the table just in case the league should somehow survive. That possibility still exists.
"If there are eight teams, I don't know if our bid will be the same as either of the two bids we have already made," Fowler said. "I've seen quite a lack of stability in the league in the last few days, and I'm concerned about the bids I've already made."
One of Fowler's bids, for $825,000, included $375,000 in secured loans that would be returned to Fowler's Liquid Investments Inc. The other bid was for $500,000 in cash. Fowler wouldn't say what a new bid might entail.
"I won't go into that now," he said. "I want to see what happens in (today's) meeting first."