Star-Bulletin Sports

Friday, June 25, 1999

A R E N A _ F O O T B A L L

struggling to survive,
co-owner says

George Hetherington says
he expects the franchise to lose
money for two to three
more years

By Pat Bigold


A major Hawaii Hammerheads investor said this week that the indoor football franchise is struggling financially.

"The team is not doing well financially," said George Hetherington, an attorney who said he is now "co-chair" of the team's 10-owner group.

"Obviously, just on the revenue that we've generated from corporate sponsorships and ticket sales, that's not sufficient to cover the expenses of the team," said Hetherington. "We're trying to run a first-class operation and our budget is quite significant. It's going to be in excess of $800,000 for the season, maybe as high as $900,000. Much of that money is coming from owners' contributions. We do have guys with some substance backing the team up. We are taking money out of our pockets and putting it into the team."

Hetherington said he thinks there will be enough money to get the Hammerheads through the remainder of the season.

But he said he doesn't believe the Hammerheads will break even this year or next.

"It's my personal opinion that it will take two or three years for this sport to be self-sustaining and to make a profit in this town," said Hetherington.

"I think you need about 4,000 to 5,000 paid attendance at $10 to $12 a ticket to really get close to breaking even."

Asked how much paid attendance the team has averaged at home, Hetherington said it's been under 1,000.

Hetherington said that five owners continue to pump money into the franchise.

"We're talking about fairly significant amounts of money," he said.

"In August, when the season is over, the owners are going to get together and figure out who wants to continue on and who's had enough," said Hetherington.

"We've talked to a few local people who've expressed interest in coming in."

Mike Vasconcellos, who was fired as the Hammerheads' general manager on May 11, said 5,300 tickets were given away for the first two home games.

The team, now in Colorado Springs for tomorrow's game with the Rocky Mountain Thunder, is 6-4 and in second place in the Indoor Professional Football League.

Hetherington denied the Star-Bulletin's report last week that he wrested the presidency of the team from former Straub chief executive officer Blake Waterhouse.

"Really, there was no coup," said Hetherington. "He's basically out of town for the duration of the season. He's retired from Straub, and he has a home in Wisconsin, and that's where he is for the summer."

Hetherington said he became co-chairman of the owners group in April while Waterhouse was away. But he said that Waterhouse was aware of the change and that he approved of it.

Hetherington said Waterhouse told him his commitment to go to the mainland made it difficult to be involved with the team's operations.

Waterhouse could not be reached.

"The reason why Blake is not in charge is that he's not here. If he was here, he'd be in charge," said Hetherington.

Hetherington said he is general counsel for Straub and worked closely with Waterhouse for 10 years. "We go way back. I'm his attorney," he said.

Hetherington also said that Waterhouse was never the team president despite being listed by that title on the Hammerheads' website, which is maintained by the IPFL.

"That was the league that put that characterization in," said Hetherington. "It's probably more correct to call him the chairperson. We really don't have a president, vice-president and stuff like that."

But Hetherington said Waterhouse is not putting any more money into the team.

He said Waterhouse stopped contributing during, "the latest round in which we were seeking money."

Asked why Waterhouse would play a passive role when the team is struggling financially, Hetherington said he didn't know.

"Whatever motivated Blake is his own private decision," said Hetherington.

Hetherington said the team has had no general manager since the firing of Vasconcellos.

"We've taken the functions of the general manager and allocated them among the owners," he said. "So, the owners, as a whole, are serving various capacities. Finance, marketing, overall operations.

"Kalei Kamakahi, who was in charge of our sales and marketing, is now running the office. She travels with the team, liaisons with the players, makes sure all their needs are attended to."

Hetherington said he is now in charge of the team, "On a day-to-day basis."

Vasconcellos' firing was never formally announced by the club. Hetherington said he did not release news of the dismissal because he thought it would embarrass Vasconcellos. Also, he said he didn't think it was newsworthy. "People get fired every day," he said.

Vasconcellos has filed a breach of contract lawsuit against the Hammerheads, and Hetherington's law firm is counter-suing Vasconcellos on behalf of the team.

Hetherington said he is charging the Hammerheads a "discount" fee for his legal services and doesn't see any conflict of interest on his part. "There's no problem with that," he said.

"All the owners agreed that's what they wanted. It isn't something I engineered."

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