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CPBJ Extra Blog

Plays by Williamsport, York using sports teams to boost income both risky

By - Last modified: June 10, 2013 at 10:34 AM
Amy Gulli
Amy Gulli

I'll admit it: I was skeptical, and it seems I'm being proven wrong — so far.

Early this year, staff reporter Brent Burkey blogged about Williamsport's failed attempt to keep afloat a minor league hockey team that played outside in the winter. Kudos to Williamsport for trying to think of a new way to generate income, but I agree with Brent: The whole idea fell into the category of the best-laid plans of mice and men.

That plan has gone so awry, in fact, that Williamsport is now suing to recover nearly $55,000 it claims it is owed from the now-defunct Williamsport Outlaws. I imagine the legal fees of trying to recover the money will far outstrip that amount.

All of which brings to me to my point: I was expecting this scenario to play out in a slightly different version when the American Indoor Football league announced that it was adding a team at the York City Ice Arena.

The ice arena's woes are nearly legendary in York County. In summary, if you're not familiar with the tale: The company that ran the facility couldn't ever get it to run in the black, so the City of York took it over — including its bills. And despite multiple ploys and efforts and financial rearranging, the ice arena has continued to be a money drain.

My skepticism about York's indoor football team was further fueled when details about the team were initially scarce. Hardly anyone who's normally in the know about such things had heard of the deal, and we couldn't get the AIF to confirm anything. And let's be honest here: How many people do you know who are passionate about, and regularly attend, minor league football games? I saw the chances of this team having a significant financial impact as minimal.

But the team — dubbed the York Capitals during some stage I must have missed — has been playing there and, in fact, doing quite well in the league. The Capitals just played the Harrisburg Stampede — which, in case you missed it, is now fully owned by New Orleans Saints wide receiver and Harrisburg-area native Marques Colston — in the AIF semi-finals June 1.

The Capitals lost, but getting that close to a championship during your inaugural year should be an excellent way to drive fan loyalty (and season ticket holders).

A call to ice arena General Manager Mike Cleveland wasn't immediately returned this morning to talk about how attendance has been at the Capitals' games and the financial effect the team is having on the arena.

But with York constantly on the verge of Act 47 and the ice arena being a factor in the city's debt problems, it's clear this indoor football team is worth a shot. Let's just hope my skepticism is unwarranted and that this play by the city doesn't end the way Williamsport's did.

Amy Gulli is the managing editor of the Central Penn Business Journal. Contact her at or follow her on Twitter, @amygulli.

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