The Business Press: Storm owner buys Las Vegas team

MINOR LEAGUES: Jacobs adds hockey team to go along with his minor league baseball team in Lake Elsinore.

06:00 AM PDT on Thursday, July 29, 2010

By CHRIS H. SIEROTY
Contributing Writer

Gary Jacobs, who has been managing owner of the Lake Elsinore Storm since 2001, has purchased the Las Vegas Wranglers, a franchise in the East Coast Hockey League.

Jacobs purchased the team for an undisclosed amount from Jonathan Fleisig, who owns the ECHL’s Bakersfield Condors franchise.

“I have always enjoyed minor league sports because of the interaction with the fans and its affordability,” said Jacobs. “Furthering the team’s presence in the Las Vegas community will be a top priority. We are here to serve our sponsors, fans and the community.”

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Frank Bellino / Contributing Photographer
Gary Jacobs is managing director of Jacobs Investment, which participates in development, private and public equity and venture funds.

In a phone interview, Jacobs said just like his purchase of the Storm, it all began with a phone call to gauge his interest. After the initial pitch, Jacobs explained that it looked “like a team that was undervalued” and he was confident he could “do something with it.”

While he declined to discuss financial details of operating a minor league hockey team, he said he was confident that by reducing ticket prices and implementing a new operating budget, the Wranglers would break even in the upcoming 2010-2011 season. Jacobs said the goal was to create an affordable entertainment option for residents in Las Vegas.

“No one was immune to the recent economic downturn, but the team has a tremendous reputation in Las Vegas and continued to draw fans last season,” he said. “In our local market, despite the recession, Storm attendance is up this season.”

For 36 home games last season, the Wranglers drew 156,591 fans, for an average of 4,350 per-game. So far this season, the Storm, a Class-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres, leads the California League in attendance drawing 145,826 fans for 43 games, an average of 3,391 per-game.

“Las Vegas is an important market for our league, especially to the teams here out West, so the news of a strong ownership group coming in that is savvy in sports marketing is huge,” said Justin Kemp, president of the Ontario Reign. “Having owners like this in our league in key markets is a strong step forward in the overall strength of the ECHL. I would expect to see good things come out of Las Vegas heading into the 2010-11 campaign and beyond.”

When asked about the possibility of moving the franchise closer to home in San Diego, Jacobs laughed, adding “never say never, but the plan is to keep the Wranglers in Las Vegas.”

Based in Del Mar, Jacobs is managing director of Jacobs Investment Co. LLC, a real estate investment firm that he founded in 1997. He is a son of Irwin Jacobs, the chief executive officer of Qualcomm Inc. Gary Jacobs at one time was an executive at Qualcomm.

Jacobs told The Business Press that the plan was to “stabilize” the franchise in Las Vegas and continue its relationship with the Orleans Arena.

“We look to take the greatest hits from our success with Storm baseball and combine it with the things that the Wranglers do very well,” he said. “It’s exciting and I know our fun in doing it will be contagious.”

At Storm games this season, the team is offering a number of promotions including free chicken tacos on Thursday and a family fun pack for $8 that includes four box seats, four hot dogs, four small sodas and two tickets to the stadium arcade. Jacobs said both teams will market their product at the other’s stadiums in an effort to create a “market synergy” between Lake Elsinore and Las Vegas.

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