New owner has high hope for Wranglers

When Gary Jacobs became managing owner of the Lake Elsinore Storm minor league baseball team in 2001, the San Diego Padres’ Single-A affiliate promptly captured the California League championship.

Jacobs, a longtime San Diego resident whose father, Irwin Jacobs, founded Qualcomm, hopes to repeat that feat this season in his first year as owner of the Las Vegas Wranglers ECHL hockey team.

"The goal is to win the championship and play well and entertain the fans and hopefully have our players move up. It’s really about player development," said Jacobs, who bought the team in June from Jonathan Fleisig, who owns the ECHL’s Bakersfield Condors. "On the business side, it’s clear, in my vision, to get the Wranglers far more involved in the community. I think that’s critical."

Jacobs, who plans to attend the Wranglers’ home opener today at the Orleans Arena against the Victoria Salmon Kings, was a fan of the ECHL’s San Diego Gulls before they folded in 2006.

But he said he has no plans to move the Wranglers to San Diego or elsewhere and is in talks to renew Las Vegas’ lease at the Orleans Arena for three years after this one, the final year on the team’s current lease.

"We are working with the Orleans because our goal is to keep the Wranglers in Las Vegas," he said. "Las Vegas is a great community with a great population base. Obviously (it’s) going through some tough times right now, but there are a lot of impassioned hockey fans in Las Vegas we’d love to have come out."

Jacobs, a married father of four, lowered some of the prices for season tickets shortly after taking over the team, which averaged 4,350 fans per game last season at the 7,773-seat Orleans Arena.

"We want to give everybody the ability to have an opportunity to see us," he said. "We want to get fans in the stands and have 7,500 screaming people there every night. But that will build up as we work with community groups and youth sports."

The Storm led the California League in attendance last season for the first time in franchise history, averaging 3,203 fans per game at 7,866-seat Lake Elsinore Diamond.

"We’ll see what was successful with the Storm, in terms of community outreach, and implement those with the Wranglers," said Jacobs, who is also managing director of Jacobs Investment Company, a real estate investment firm that, in partnership with several developers, has invested more than $60 million into projects since 1997.

Jacobs is also active in philanthropic and volunteer work.

Although he purchased the Wranglers because he thought it would be a good investment, the longtime sports fan said that’s not the only reason he added a professional hockey team to his portfolio.

"Someone once asked me, ‘Would you rather win a championship or make money?’ " he said. "The real answer is you want to make a buck and win a championship.

"It’s not all about making money. This is kind of the fun part of our portfolio."

■ NOTES — Charles Davenport was principal owner of the Wranglers from their inception in 2003 until early in 2010, when he sold his share of the team to Fleisig. The Wranglers (1-0) will also host the Salmon Kings (1-1) at 7:05 p.m. Saturday in the second game of a nine-game homestand.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

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