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Debt, turnover put future of Tornadoes in doubt

The ownership of the Worcester Tornadoes faces some huge challenges: after unsuccessfully putting the team on the market this past offseason, they must now work to bring dissatisfied fans back into the fold.
When the Worcester Tornadoes (independent; Can-Am Association) began play in 2005, the team was a success during that inaugural season, despite playing at a hastily assembled ballpark and having little time to market the team.

Since then, the Tornadoes have struggled. Team debt — including as much as $4 million for the renovation of Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field, a facility the team doesn’t even own — looms and caused some cash-flow issued for the franchise, who still have unpaid debts from the 2008 season. Ownership has shopped the team around, most notably to the owners of the AHL’s Worcester Sharks — a deal that collapsed after the Sharks reportedly refused to cover the team debt.

And the future isn’t looking too bright. Though this article says the team has been alienated longtime supporters, the biggest issue will be increasing costs in coming years. The deal with Holy Cross, once hailed as a good one for both sides, is increasingly looking bad: despite paying millions to upgrade the facility, the Tornadoes will be on the hook for $70,000 beginning next season, and that rent increases by $10,000 annually for four years after that.

After that, what? The independent Can-Am Association is down to six teams this season; you have two extremely strong franchises (Brockton and Quebec), one OK franchise (New Jersey), one struggling franchise (Sussex), and one interesting experiment that could go either way (American Defenders of New Hamphire). We don’t hear any prospects for new teams for 2010 or beyond, either, unless there’s another defection from the Atlantic League.

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