The Mad Ants’ presence in Fort Wayne seems secure for the near future.
The G League basketball team and Memorial Coliseum have agreed to terms on a two-year lease, something both sides had said for months they felt was merely a formality.
“All along, I felt confident that the Mad Ants would be back,” Coliseum general manager Randy Brown said today. “I look at what their organization is trying to do and I look at the improvements we’re making to the Coliseum and I think it’s a great match.”
The lease still needs to be approved by the Coliseum’s Board of Trustees, but Brown perceives that as a mere formality.
“(The lease negotiations) have been in the works for a long time,” said the Mad Ants’ president, Tim Bawmann, “and we’ve got it massaged to the point where everybody is comfortable and we’re ready to move forward.”
The new lease has an option for a third season.
“It can be extended for an extra year with mutual consent of the parties,” Brown said.
The Mad Ants have played at the Coliseum since their inception in 2007 and they were purchased by the NBA’s Indiana Pacers in 2015. However, they were interested in being a tenant of a proposed $105 million downtown arena for which Mayor Tom Henry shelved the plans last Nov. 17.
Since then, the Pacers have been relatively mum on their long-term plans for the Mad Ants, and their previous lease with the Coliseum expired this week. However, everyone was clear on where they wanted the Mad Ants to be at least in the coming season -- at the Coliseum.
“The Mad Ants and Pacers Sports & Entertainment, we’re committed to being in this area and we showed it by buying the team and we want to be here,” Bawmann said, adding: “We still need to find ways to generate and develop new revenue streams to make it more profitable.… This is certainly where we want to be.”
The Mad Ants had announced May 30 their “priority home dates” for the coming season, which included promotions that would be at the Coliseum such as a Feb. 1, 2019, Superhero night and a March 23, 2019, bobblehead giveaway, as they continued to negotiate a lease.
“The Coliseum has had a great 67-year or so history with our teams and we lose very few of them,” Brown said. “There are times when, unfortunately, like with the (defunct Fury of the Continental Basketball Association) where with circumstances beyond their control, things happen (and they fold). But that’s a rarity here in Fort Wayne.”
The Mad Ants won the G League championship in 2014 and reached the finals in 2015. They have made the playoffs the last two years, losing to Erie in the one-game conference semifinals, at the end of a season that saw Trey McKinney Jones and Walt Lemon Jr. make their NBA debuts with the Pacers and New Orleans Pelicans, respectively.
A full schedule hasn’t yet be announced for this season, but Mad Ants fans will see improvements to the building.
“Most of it is technology,” Brown said, “and I’m talking about scoreboards, ribbon boards, stat boards. Visually, you’re going to see a lot of changes.”
The advances should help the Mad Ants with things such as highlights, displaying statistics and promotions.
“It really helps the Coliseum get in line with instrument technology with some of the newer facilities,” Bawmann said, “and I think the fans will see the vast improvements.… Every year we want to improve on what we call the ‘ANT-ertainment’ and make sure we’re appealing to everybody, and not just the basketball fans. We want to make sure that if you’re looking for a fun night out, that we’ll improve on that aspect of (what you’ll get at our games).”
The Coliseum board is expected to agree to the lease Tuesday.
“I don’t anticipate any problems,” Brown said. “We should just be moving ahead. We just had a meeting today with the Mad Ants’ staff talking about the scoreboard and we’re already talking about the upcoming season.”