Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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2006-2008 Utah Blaze

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2008 Utah Blaze Media GuideArena Football League (2006-2008)

Born: September 2004 – AFL expansion franchise
Folded
: August 4, 2009

Arena: EnergySolutions Arena

Team Colors:

Owners: John Garff, Robert Garff & Brett Hopkins

Arena Bowl Championships: None

 

Very popular Salt Lake City-based Arena Football League team which had the misfortune to enter the league just as a massive asset bubble in franchise valuations began to deflate.  The Utah Blaze packed large crowds into EnergySolutions Arena for three seasons, but vanished into bankruptcy along with the rest of the league in August 2009.

Father and son auto barons John & Robert Garff, along with partner Brett Hopkins, paid an estimated $18.0 million expansion fee for the Utah franchise in September 2004.  Arena football franchise fees had skyrocketed over 350% during the past six years, since Casey Wasserman acquired the Los Angeles territory for a then-record $5 million in 1998.  However, the expansion gold rush obscured the fact that virtually every team lost money every season, often millions of dollars.  After the Garff’s bought in, the league would only manage to sell one more expansion franchise (Kansas City, also for $18M, in 2005) during its final four seasons of existence.  Hoped for paydays from investor groups in Boston, Pittsburgh and elsewhere stalled.  The Greater Fool theory ran its course somewhere around the $20M price tag.

On the carpet, the Blaze were neither particularly bad nor especially good.  The team hired former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Danny White as Head Coach and General Manager.  White was one of the top coaches in the league, previously winning two Arena Bowls with the Arizona Rattlers.  After two middling campaigns, White resigned midway through the Blaze’s third and final season in 2008.  The club was 0-9 at the time, but rallied following White’s departure to finish 6-10 and earn a playoff spot.

Although the Blaze never finished a season better than .500, they did make the playoffs in all three of their seasons.  They lost in the first round every year.

The Blaze’s top player was former Ohio State quarterback and NFL journeyman Joe Germaine. Germaine set an Arena Football League all-time record with 5,005 passing yards during the 2007 season.

Another key figure in Blaze history was WR-LB Justin Skaggs. Skaggs played parts two of seasons with Utah in 2006 and 2007.  After suffering headaches during the season, Skaggs was diagnosed with inoperable Stage III brain cancer on June 1, 2007.  He died just two weeks later on June 15th, less than two weeks after suiting up for the final time.  The Blaze retired Justin Skaggs’ number in 2008.

Following the 2008 season, a heretofore private crisis of confidence among the league’s investors came to the surface.  Long-time league Commissioner C. David Baker resigned, the NFL ownership group backing the league’s popular New Orleans Voodoo franchise abruptly pulled out, and a $100M private equity investment in the league collapsed.  In December 2008, the league cancelled the 2009 season and announced plans to revamp its business model.  Most team staff around the league were laid off.  The Los Angeles franchise dropped out during the re-structuring process.  Ultimately, the league failed to emerge from the crisis and folded in August 2009.

At the end of 2009, a group comprised of former owners from the AFL and its smaller-market minor league, Arena Football 2, purchased the intellectual property of the defunct AFL from the bankruptcy court. This acquisition included the rights to the Utah Blaze name and trademarks.  The Garff family elected not to continue with the “new” Arena Football League.  Instead, a much thriftier owner named David Affleck took over the rights to the Blaze name and re-launched the team in 2010.  This re-booted version of the Blaze muddled along for four seasons from 2010-2013, enduring arena moves, ownership turmoil, and eventual insolvency and was a pale imitation of the original franchise.  The new version of the Blaze will be covered in a separate FWIL entry.

 

Blaze Video

The Blaze take on the New York Dragons at EnergySolutions Arena on February 11, 2006.

 

Links

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

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Written by AC

November 29th, 2014 at 4:09 am

1997-2002 Utah Starzz

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Women’s National Basketball Association (1997-2002)

Born: October 30, 1996 – WNBA founding franchise.
Died: December 5, 2002 – The Starzz relocate to San Antonio, TX.

Arena: Delta Center (19,911)

Team Colors: Purple, Light Blue, Green, Copper & Black

Owner: Larry H. Miller

WNBA Championships: None

 

The Utah Starzz were one of of eight founding franchises of the Women’s National Basketball Association, beginning play in the league’s inaugural season of 1997.  The unique spelling of the team name was a co-branding effort with the NBA’s Utah Jazz, who operated the Starzz franchise.

The Starzz were the league’s weakest entry during the WNBA’s early years, finishing last in their division each season from 1997 to 1999.  Utah’s doormat status earned them the #1 overall selection in the 1998 WNBA draft, which the Starzz used to select center Margo Dydek from Poland.  At 7′ 2″, Dydek was the tallest women’s basketball player in the world and she became perhaps the most recognizable figure from the Starzz’ six seasons in Salt Lake City.

The Starzz began to improve in their fourth season, posting their first winning record (18-14) in 2000.  Two more winning seasons followed, capped by a franchise-best 20-12 record in 2002 and a trip to the playoff semi-finals, where the Starzz lost to the eventual champion Los Angeles Sparks.   The improved teams did not lead to improved or sustainable box office, however.   Starzz announced attendance lagged below 8,000 fans per game in both 2001 and 2002.

At its inception, the WNBA was collectively owned by the NBA franchises.  All WNBA teams from 1997 to 2002 were located in NBA cities and operated by NBA owners by league rule.  At the end of the WNBA’s sixth season in 2002, the league moved away from this business model, paving the way for both independent ownership and non-NBA cities.  At the same time, several NBA operators of struggling WNBA clubs took the opportunity to dump their women’s teams.  No WNBA franchise had folded prior to 2002. That fall and winter the league lost NBA-run clubs in Miami, Orlando and Portland.

Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller bailed as well, selling out his interest to the Spurs Sports & Entertainment, operators of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, in December 2002.   The Starzz relocated to Texas and became the San Antonio Silver Stars for the 2003 season.  The club continues to exist today and will begin their 15th season in San Antonio in the summer of 2017.

 

Utah Starzz Memorabilia

 

Utah Starzz Video

Starzz spot from ESPN’s “WNBays” ad campaign from the 1999 season.

 

In Memoriam

Starzx owner/operator Larry H. Miller died at age 64 on February 20, 2009 from complications on Type II diabetes.

Former Starzz center Margo Dydek passed away on May 27, 2011 in Australia, eight days after suffering a massive heart attack.

 

Links

WNBA Media Guides

WNBA Game Programs

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