Orlando Predators Suspend Team Operations
The Orlando Predators, an Arena Football League team, announced Wednesday that they are suspending operations.
According to a statement released by the organization, the Orlando Predators have chosen to suspend team operations due to ” the reduced number of teams remaining in the Arena Football League as well as pending disagreements with the League.”
Earlier this year the team celebrated its 25th season, but now it looks like they won’t be around to celebrate the 26th.
“Over the course of the past several years we have focused on building and growing our winning franchise, despite significant issues at the league level that have impaired our ability to be successful.”
Westgate Resorts, founded by timeshare mogul David Siegel, bought the organization in 2014. According to the Orlando Sentinel, team president Jared Saft was asked via text whether the Preds were folding for just the 2017 season or permanently and he responded, “I’ve said all I can say at this time.”
The Arena Football League played only eight teams in 2016. The Jacksonville Sharks’ plan to join another indoor football league and abandon the AFL, via the Florida Times-Union. They have not identified which league they will join.
In 2016 the Preds were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Jacksonville Sharks. The won ArenaBowl championships in 1998 and 2000 under Jay Gruden, the current Washington Redskins head coach, and made the league’s championship game seven times.
Preds quarterback Bernard Morris said players were told the news of the fold Wednesday morning.
“When things like that happen, it is kind of outside of the players,” Morris said from Jacksonville, where he resides, to the Orlando Sentinel. “It’s things that we can’t control. Seeing a decline like that is not really good for the league.”
Preds coach, Rob Keefe, expressed his appreciation, but did not go into details about the specifics.
“I do not have the words to describe how grateful I am to my coaches, staff and players over the course of my time here for pouring their heart and soul into their craft every minute of every day,” wrote Keefe, who joined the Preds in 2014, per the Orlando Sentinel. “It has been an honor and a truly great experience to represent all of the Orlando Predator fans worldwide. I will always cherish the great support the fans and the Central Florida community has given this great organization. Thank you for everything.”
The organization also recognized the fans and sponsors that have supported the organization over the years.
“We want to thank all Orlando Predators fans whose support during our ownership was the sole driving force behind all of our efforts. We also want to thank our loyal season ticketholders, our incredible sponsors, the Amway Center and its amazing staff, as well as the Orlando Magic for their partnership. We also owe a tremendous appreciation to our first-class coaching staff led by Head Coach Rob Keefe, our front office and all of the dedicated men and women who have been a part of this organization for the past two-and-a-half decades.”
Fans and sponsors that paid funds toward the 2017 season will receive full refunds within the next several weeks. The organization asked for patience as they work through the refunds.
But it wasn’t the money that fans were shocked about. It was more of the franchise’s decision to fold just short of the start of the 2017 season. Tryouts for the Preds had been scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 22nd.
Orlando holds the arena-league record with 19 consecutive postseason appearances, from 1992-2011.
The Preds were their most popular in the mid-1990’s and drew a team record average attendance of 15,638 in 1995.
When the Amway Center opened in 2010 the Preds began playing there the following year. They spent three seasons at the downtown facility, then moved their home games to UCF for one season after a lease agreement.
When Siegel bought the franchise the team moved back to the Amway Center in 2015, but they were only averaging 11,638 fans per home game last season.