The Minnesota Swarm pro lacrosse franchise, founded in Minnesota in 2004, is leaving this market for a yet-to-be-determined location next season, the team announced Friday.
Citing difficulties in negotiating a new lease at its longtime home of Xcel Energy Center, difficulties competing with other pro sports in the Twin Cities, and a diminished base of season-ticket holders and corporate sponsors, team owner John Arlotta said it was time to move.
"It's very much a bittersweet time. We've put our heart and soul into this for seven years," said Arlotta, who bought the franchise in 2008 after it was originally run by Minnesota Sports and Entertainment. "We've met a lot of great people. We can't be plugging holes and taking backward steps. We have to be on a forward trajectory. … We need to find an arena that works better for an individual owner."
Arlotta, who along with his son Andy will continue to own and run the franchise, declined to discuss potential landing spots for the Swarm, saying "a number of places look promising, but it's not done yet." But it won't be another Twin Cities arena, he said.
The Swarm's lease at Xcel Energy Center expired after the recently completed 2015 season, when the team finished 6-12 in the National Lacrosse League and missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Arlotta said a new lease would have meant more Swarm games on Sundays, pushing the team out of its ideal Saturday night slots.
"Those were getting more and more scarce, and they would have gotten more scarce next year," he said. "No disrespect to them; they have opportunities to do things next year and they were just being honest with us. And we appreciated that honesty, but it doesn't work for us."
The Swarm played six home games on Saturdays this past season, three on Fridays.
Even with lacrosse blossoming as a sport in Minnesota and with an average attendance of nearly 8,700 for nine home matches last season — the highest since 2010 — the franchise lost money, Arlotta said, declining to say how much.
"We were losing money every year. Oh gosh, yes," he said. "We've never made money. This has been a love-of-the-game thing."
The Swarm in 2013 lost a major corporate sponsor, Treasure Island Resort and Casino, prompting Arlotta to send an e-mail to fans asking for their support and warning of "tremendous financial losses that are not sustainable."
Rumors of the franchise folding or relocating began to surface recently when the Swarm, which would typically send out season ticket renewals in April, did not do so. And those relocation rumors became reality Friday.
"I've really enjoyed the experience at the Hive," Arlotta said, referring to the nickname fans and the team gave the arena. "I believe we've created a unique, fun family experience that is really different from anything else in the marketplace. That's what I have the most pride in and the most frustration with because it didn't increase what we needed most, which was more season tickets and more sponsors."