Legal challenges weigh on Swarm

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 11, 2013 - 11:26 PM

A fan website targets team president Andy Arlotta, while a suit alleging sabotage by two former employees comes to light.

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A Minnesota Swarm player bathed in the glow of pyrotechnics during introductions before the start of a 2008 game at Xcel Energy Center. The Swarm is trying to increase its season-ticket base to address financial losses.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune file photo

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There are more issues facing the Minnesota Swarm, the state’s struggling professional lacrosse team.

Last week, a prominent fan website called for the ouster of Andy Arlotta, the Swarm’s co-owner and president, and cited a state court of appeals case that upheld an unusual 50-year restraining order against Arlotta over his relationship with a former girlfriend. The fan website, Swarm It Up, is run by John Hoffman, who had at one point previewed Swarm games on the team’s official website.

The team also last week found itself explaining a separate lawsuit the Swarm filed a year ago against two former high-ranking employees, whom the team accused of “sabotaging the Swarm’s website” and “misleadingly redirecting” the team’s internet traffic to their competing website. That lawsuit, which has since been settled, focused on the Swarm’s attempts at operating a youth lacrosse league in Minnesota.

Only last month, the Swarm had announced a push to increase season ticket sales — hoping to go from 2,500 to 4,000 season tickets — and said the team was facing “tremendous financial losses that are not sustainable over another five years of ownership.” Arlotta also acknowledged the team had lost its main corporate sponsor, Treasure Island Resort and Casino.

The team, while saying late last week that negotiations with a new corporate sponsor were confidential, said it was “encouraged by the initial response of our fans” to the plea for more season tickets.

In a statement released late last week, the team also said Arlotta’s court case had no bearing on the Swarm or its finances and said the case was “a private issue dating back four years” and “everyone has moved on.” The team added that there was no widespread push by fans to have Arlotta step down.

Hoffman, in a blog posted last week, said “I have finally lost faith in the ability of A. Arlotta to properly manage the day-to-day operations of the team.” He added that the Swarm, largely because of its financial predicament, was “possibly entering its darkest period just as the team on [the] floor is entering the 2014 season with the brightest of expectations.” The Swarm’s season begins Dec. 28.

The state appeals court decision in late 2011 said that, within days after Arlotta was the subject of an initial restraining order in 2009, he created a blog titled “Help Ann Johnson”, which was aimed at his former girlfriend. Arlotta, the court said, publicized the blog using electronic messages to her relatives and friends and posted links to the blog on other websites. He also publicized the blog by sending it to members of Johnson’s high school graduating class and a local TV news anchor, the court said.

The court said that a new restraining order is to remain in effect until 2061.

Marty O’Neill, the Swarm’s general manager for seven years ending in 2011, said Arlotta learned from his actions.

“He’s better for the experience, like we all would be. I think he’s learned from it. I know him enough that I think that’s behind him,” O’Neill said.

Kevin Dunnigan, the team’s former director of lacrosse operations, was one of two former employees sued by the team last year. The team said Dunnigan, whom it said “was the face of the [team’s youth league to] participants, parents and coaches”, and another employee “struck out on their own to begin a competing league.” Dunnigan said the lawsuit caught him off guard, saying, “I thought it was a pretty pleasant experience” working for the Swarm.

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