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Bell Resigns; Fowler Group Controls Sockers

October 15, 1987|MARC APPLEMAN | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Bob Bell, the man who brought professional soccer to San Diego in 1978, on Wednesday announced his resignation as San Diego Sockers co-managing general partner, allowing Sockers Management Inc., a corporation formed by Ron Fowler, to take full control of the club.

In nearly 10 years as the team's sole managing general partner, Bell had lost $9 million. Bell and Fowler's corporation had become co-managing general partners in August when the Sockers' front office was restructured.

"I've been on an emotional roller-coaster for years with this team," Bell said during a news conference at San Diego Sports Arena. "It's no surprise to anybody (knowing) the financial difficulties we've had. We've had so many crisis meetings and refinanced the club innumerable times. But there comes a time when you have to turn something over to new people, new energy."

Sockers Management Inc. took over as the new general partner under an agreement with the 15 limited partners who are supplying money to provide capital and pay off the team's debts.

The Sockers' change of ownership will be discussed Oct. 24 at the next meeting of the Major Indoor Soccer League board of directors, which has to approve the transfer by a two-thirds majority vote.

Fowler said his corporation owns about 25% of the Sockers. Fowler, who is also owner of Liquid Investments Inc., had been a limited partner, beginning in 1984.

Ron Cady, a longtime friend of Fowler and executive vice president of Liquid Investments, on Wednesday was named president of Sockers Management Inc. and will oversee the team's daily operations. Cady has been working with no title in the Sockers' front office since the club's restructuring in August.

Bell, 47, said he was not forced out by the Sockers' limited partners, although throughout the past two years they had frequently pressured him to improve the financial status of the club.

"I wish I could have continued to be financially involved, but I reached the end of it. If I had the financial wherewithal, I could have been part of the group," Bell said.

Bell's teams won five straight indoor league championships from the 1981-82 season through 1985-86, but the team never turned a profit. In 1980, Bell owned 95% of the team. Hampered by a lingering debt incurred from the outdoor game, Bell was forced to bring in limited partners to the Sockers in 1984. In 1985, his share had dwindled to 17.5%.

"We knew it was in the cards because they kept chipping away at his ownership. He had very little control at the end," Socker Coach Ron Newman said.

No other front office changes are planned, and no noticeable changes in the team will be forthcoming in the short-term future, according to Fowler, who left Wednesday afternoon on a two-week educational trip with the Young President's Group to Africa. He will travel to South Africa and take part in a safari in Nairobi.

Despite Fowler's promises, Socker midfielder Juli Veee expressed some uncertainty about the team's plans.

"He's going to Africa to shoot lions. I hope he doesn't come back shooting players," midfielder Juli Veee deadpanned before practice Wednesday.

"Bob was a small guy carrying a franchise. I hope they don't lose the human element. When they have a corporation, who are you going to go to? You need inspiration from the front office. I hope there is an open door."

Newman, who has a contract extending through the 1991-92 season, will continue to have authority for on-field and roster decisions, according to Fowler.

"If there is a weakness (with the new management)," Newman said, "it will be at league meetings. Bob was very shrewd and knowledgeable. Actually, he ought to be commissioner."

Bell said that he plans to make himself available to help Fowler's group and that he now plans to take a couple of weeks to re-evaluate his future.

Bell said he had opportunities to sell the Sockers to interests in Phoenix and Los Angeles, but he had been determined to keep the team in San Diego.

"Actually, I wish I could have gotten out and become a silent partner three years ago," Bell said in an interview with The Times in March 1985. "I'm not really fit to do this. I don't enjoy it, but I haven't been able to afford to have some high-powered executive running the club."

On Wednesday, Bell had a piece of advice for the Sockers' new management: "Treat this as a business."

When asked his motivation for becoming more involved in professional sports, Fowler said: "I'm not looking at this as a true business proposition. All of us are jocks in a way. That's the reason we are in this."

Fowler said he would not have become the Sockers' managing general partner were it not for a salary cap of $1.275 million per team. He also said he didn't think he could boost advertising revenue and attendance. Cady said the Sockers hope to "reach out to build broad-base community support."

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