The City Paper has learned through unnamed sources close to the negotiations that the 12-year-old Nashville Metros franchise will indeed be sold to an as-yet unnamed group of investors for a proposed move to Virginia.
The sources characterized the deal as essentially final, although approval by the United Soccer Leagues and government leaders in Virginia Beach for the new team's use of facilities at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex would still be needed to successfully complete the transaction. It is understood by The City Paper that the business group seeking to purchase and move the Metros franchise is New York-based. Former Hampton Roads Mariners owners Mark Garcea and Page Johnson, as well as former head coach Shawn McDonald, have been working to bring a new team to the Virginia Beach area since their franchise shut down earlier this year.
A-League Manager of Operations Tim Holt said Wednesday that the USL office in Tampa had still not received a franchise transfer application, which would be required for such a move to take place. Holt and associate commissioner/general counsel Dave Askinas have previously indicated they expect to receive such an application soon, though, and a "due diligence" process has been started by USL officials. The league cannot verify which franchise would be involved in such an application until they receive it, however.
The Metros club is the oldest continuously operating franchise in the A-League. Potential investors can spare themselves a franchise fee that currently stands at $250,000 by purchasing an existing team as opposed to applying to enter the league as a new entity.
The Nashville franchise has unsuccessfully sought lease conditions from the city that would allow it to sell beer at Ezell Park. Such concessions would provide additional revenue. More importantly, team officials have said that selling beer would bring the organization valuable team sponsorships to pay for the development of better playing, practicing and administrative facilities such as those found in locations like Virginia Beach and Rochester, N.Y., home to the 2000 A-League champion Rochester Raging Rhinos and soon to be the site of the 20,000-seat multi-purpose PaeTec Park.
Co-owner, co-founder and general manager Devinder Sandhu told The City Paper last week that the Metros were entertaining an offer that was "an opportunity to grow the league by returning a team to a first class soccer specific venue in Hampton Roads." He did not confirm that the matter had gone beyond the offer stage, however, and he and his fellow owners have declined comment on whether a sale was actually imminent or not.
The other Metros owners are attorney Lynn Agee, Ken Renner, senior vice president with the public relations firm of Tom Jackson and Associates, and Ken Premo, vice president of Triton Boats.
There has been speculation that Nashville might still have a USL-sanctioned squad next year, possibly at a lower level, such as the Premier Development League (division four soccer behind Major League Soccer, the A-League and the D-3 Pro League), but current Metros owners and league officials have said nothing to that effect so far. Potential owners of a new franchise would have to receive approval from the USL following scrutiny of their business plan and financial backgrounds as well as the completion of other league-mandated procedures.
Garcea and Johnson requested an extension from city leaders in Virginia Beach so they could continue their negotiating efforts to bring A-League play back to the Virginia Beach Sportsplex for the 2002 season, according to Sportsplex Manager Courtney Dyer.
The two had originally been given a deadline which passed earlier this week to bring a new team to the community or pay the city about $300,000 in outstanding financial obligations. The Mariners were at the three-year-old, $11 million Sportsplex for two seasons before Garcea and Johnson negotiated their way out of a 20-year lease earlier this year.
Hampton Roads and Nashville sports several connections. Current Metros players Jakob Fenger, Steve Kraemer, Gabe Valencia, Jeff Dominguez and Jaymi Bailey once played for the Mariners, while head coach Brett Mosen was formerly a Hampton Roads assistant.
Nashville (6-7-2, 29 points, currently fifth in the Central Conference) takes on the Connecticut Wolves (8-3-5, 38 points, now tied for first in the Northern Conference) at Ezell Park Friday at 7 p.m. Tickets for that game are available by calling 832-5678.