After receiving what amounts to scheduling carte blanche for next season, the Sockers signed a one-year lease renewal with the San Diego Sports Arena Tuesday.
The agreement came after several days of friction between Socker owner Ron Fowler and Harry Cooper, who operates the arena and two weeks ago purchased rights to an International Hockey League franchise that will play in San Diego this fall.
Upset that another professional team might slice into his revenues by preventing the Sockers from obtaining enough weekend dates, Fowler said last week that he wouldn’t post the $500,000 letter of credit for next season if his team did not get scheduling priority. The Sockers will have 24 regular-season home games in 1990-91, the hockey team 41.
Cooper agreed to Fowler’s terms and will wait for the Sockers to receive approval of their schedule from the MISL in late July before he submits his schedule request to the IHL. MISL Commissioner Earl Foreman helped by moving the league’s schedule deadline up from early September, which gives Cooper time to meet the IHL deadline.
Along with scheduling rights, Cooper also will let the Sockers retain their office space at the arena, which was originally to have been split between the teams.
“We have dodged another bullet,” said Fowler, whose team lost approximately $500,000 last season and narrowly avoided extinction after filing for Chapter 11 protection in federal bankruptcy court in 1988. “The last two weeks have not been fun for anybody. I think we rallied the community on behalf of the Sockers.”
Fowler said he received numerous phone calls and letters of support from fans. His cause was also aided by several local politicians. Councilwoman Judy McCarty quizzed Cooper about the future of the Sockers on Tuesday at City Hall, when Cooper was granted a memorandum of understanding that clears a path for him to begin environmental impact studies for his proposed sports arena in Sorrento Hills.
Cooper responded: “I’m a soccer fan, and I will assure that the Sockers will have a schedule equal to or better than they had in the past year . . . They do get priority over hockey. I’m sure both hockey and soccer can co-exist in the arena.”
Certainly, the past two weeks have been trying for Cooper.
“I’m so glad that I don’t have to discuss the soccer situation anymore,” he said. “It’s just such a relief to know that I can concentrate on the hockey now.”
The Sockers have the same lease as last season, when they paid a fee for each game based on attendance. Fowler said they will pay $10,000 for a crowd up to 9,000, $11,000 for a crowd between 9,001 and 11,000 and $12,000 for a crowd above 11,000. The arena retains profits from parking and concessions.
Before the IHL issue arose, Fowler asked that Cooper fund an additional $2,000 in staffing costs per game. Fowler said he decided that wasn’t feasible and agreed to withdraw his request in exchange for full use of office space.
Fowler said the Sockers will now begin selling tickets and advertising space and negotiating on player contracts.