Wranglers owner confident team will stay in Las Vegas

In the final year of the Wranglers’ lease at Orleans Arena, the ECHL hockey team saw its attendance drop for the fourth straight season, to a franchise-low 3,940 per game.

The Wranglers have yet to agree to terms on a new lease, but owner Gary Jacobs is confident the team will return to Las Vegas in 2011-12 for its ninth season at The Orleans.

“The team will be back in Las Vegas next year,” said the San Diego businessman, who also owns the Single-A Lake Elsinore (Calif.) Storm baseball team and whose father, Irwin Jacobs, founded Qualcomm. “We’re still working with The Orleans on changes we’d both like to see. It will be sooner than later because we both want to get it done.”

The Wranglers’ original lease was for five years, and they then opted to renew it for three more.

The team has another option to renew the existing lease for three years, but Jacobs said he wants the next lease to be for five to seven years.

“It shouldn’t be a problem because we both want the team there,” he said.

Wranglers president Billy Johnson said the team already has dates secured by The Orleans for next season’s home games.

“We’re coming back,” he said. “It’s just a matter of signing (the lease).

“I think, on both sides, everybody wants the longest-term deal possible.”

Attendance for the Wranglers’ 36 regular-season games at the 7,773-seat venue dropped an average of 410 per game from 2009-10.

Las Vegas has seen its attendance drop by more than 20 percent since 2006-07, when it averaged 5,075 per game.

Jacobs, who purchased the team in June from Jonathan Fleisig, who bought out original Wranglers owner Charles Davenport midway through the 2009-10 season, said several factors contributed to the drop.

“Part of it was the economy,” he said. “Part of it was the team didn’t do a great job of really reaching out to the community, and that’s what we’re all about.

“Also, last year, since we bought the team late, we were late getting season-ticket renewals. This year, we’ll get started on that sooner.”

While the Wranglers spent more money on advertising this season than in the past, Jacobs said there are better ways to attract fans.

“In general, I’m not sure spending lots of money on advertising is the best answer,” he said. “Word of mouth is much more effective than a billboard on the (Interstate) 15.”

The Wranglers, who have outlasted the Las Vegas Thunder of the now-defunct International Hockey League (1993 to 1998) by two seasons, advanced to the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years.

But three years removed from the franchise’s lone appearance in the ECHL Kelly Cup Finals, Las Vegas lost in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight season — falling in five games to Idaho.

The Wranglers led the Western Conference for most of the season, after a 28-12-3 start. But, derailed by injuries and call-ups to the American Hockey League, they faltered down the stretch, going 11-18-2 — 3-10 in their final 13 games — to finish 38-29-5 (81 points).

“At first, I thought we had a team pretty capable of winning the whole thing,” said goalie Michael Ouzas, an ECHL All-Star this season. “But we didn’t really compete at the extra level needed for the playoffs. In the end, it cost us.”

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

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