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Tailing the Komets: What the team’s new lease means

The Memorial Coliseum announced Monday it has signed a four-year lease with the Fort Wayne Komets which includes this season. But what does that actually mean to the team and its fans?

The new lease gives the Komets incentives up to $65,000 from the coliseum and Allen County government to continue increasing attendance. It cuts the Komets’ base rent to $1 per season, and in return the team has agreed to maintain at least this level of hockey for the next four years. The last three years of the lease also coincides with the team’s upcoming three-year licensing renewal with the ECHL.

“We were in a situation where we needed to get an improved lease from a financial perspective,” Komets President Michael Franke said. “We really have struggled in recent years trying to create some sort of a long-term plan that will insure that the team is here for many, many years to come yet be an affordable alternative to everyone’s entertainment calendar. What you try to do is figure out ways to not pass along the never-ending increase of operating a hockey team to your fan base, but you can only go so far. We’re trying to look at this long-term 5, 10, 15 years from now when we’re not even involved with it any more.”

Though the rent is $1 per season, the Komets pay for other items such as scoreboard, practice time and food. Franke said that was $8,000 for opening night and usually runs about $4,000 per game.

Basically, Franke said, the Komets and coliseum need to continue to find ways to build a partnership that helps both be successful. Examples of that are promotions in recent years such as the “Kids Seat Free” and “Four for $55” nights.

“The fact that we don’t get any of the food and beverage money or the parking really limits our revenue to tickets and our corporate sponsors,” Franke said. “We have to take that into consideration, too. We’re trying to create a vehicle here to bring people into the building, and our sole revenue source is the ticket. That hinders us in many ways so that’s why we went to the coliseum a few years ago and tried to create these package deals. At least we are able to offer something to our fans that incorporates those important factors as to whether a family would attend.”

The team does not receive money from any back-lit signage or from the up to 424 suite tickets at any game, as those tickets are used to help pay off the 2002 coliseum renovation. The team receives $4 per suite ticket during the playoffs but not during the regular season.

The last lease was essentially a five-year lease with five additional optional years, and Franke said this is the shortest lease the team has agreed to since his family purchased the team in 1990.

Essentially, Coliseum General Manager Randy Brown said, both sides of the lease need each other to be successful.

“It gives the hockey team incentive to continue to do what they’ve been doing well which is put more people into the building,” he said. “If they don’t put people in the building we all have big issues.”

Franke said the Komets spend about $400,000 per season promoting the team, which he believes is the highest amount for any ECHL team. At 66 years, the Komets are the building’s longest and best tenant as far as regularly attracting fans.

“Our goal is we want to be rewarded for putting people in the building, and our investment to bring people in and create revenue for the coliseum,” Franke said. “We want the coliseum to be prosperous at the same time. It should be a partnership, and this enhances that. We look forward to finding new ways to make that even better in the future.”

After six home games this season, the Komets are averaging 7,901 fans, which is 75.2 percent of capacity and ranks second among ECHL teams. The team averaged 7,568 last year to lead the ECHL for the second season in a row. The Komets averaged 7,484 in 2015-16 and 7,277 in 2014-15 and 7,211 in 2013-14 after starting their ECHL run with 7,583 in 2012-13 which was the last time they failed to make the playoffs.

The Komets have averaged at least 7,000 fans per game in each of the last 15 seasons and in 20 of 27 years under Franke ownership.

“We’re making progress, and that’s a good thing,” Franke said. “Our big goal long-term is to make sure that 10, 15, 20 years from now the Komets are still thriving in Fort Wayne. That’s good for the community and the coliseum.”

The coliseum also announced a two-year lease with IPFW to host a minimum of 10 Fort Wayne men’s basketball games. The NBA G-League’s Mad Ants are also in the second year of a two-year lease.

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