Executives of the financially strapped Los Angeles Heat met with a potential investor Wednesday afternoon in an attempt to avoid folding the American Professional Soccer League West team, sources close to the team said.
The Heat reportedly was given until Friday to post a $20,000 performance bond with the league, but according to club President John Ajemian, the pullout of a key investor and the severity of the country's economic downturn have created cash-flow problems for the team's coalition of owners.
That has thrown the burden of financing the team's estimated annual budget of $360,000 on two men: Ajemian, of Santa Monica, and South Bay brass manufacturer Roland Martin.
This comes at a time when a handful of APSL West teams, hoping to become part of a long-awaited United States Soccer Federation-sponsored professional league, are pushing to increase 1991 spending to perhaps as high as $600,000 per team.
Ajemian said Wednesday night that the meeting with the unnamed potential investor "went pretty well, but I'm not going to get my hopes up. I've been through this with (other investors) before."
Ajemian said he hoped to have an answer from the investor sometime this morning.
On Dec. 1, General Manager Dick White cut the salaries of the three-person office staff in half.
Earlier this week, the staff did not receive paychecks. On Wednesday, they were told to take the rest of the week off.
The Heat, which lost to the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks in the APSL West championship series in September, has never been a moneymaker. Privately held, it does not publish financial figures. But former General Manager Jill Fracisco said in a earlier interview that the team lost $150,000 in 1989 and expected to lose more than that in 1990. Ajemian said 1990 losses could top $200,000.
If the team survives, it hopes to generate a budget of between $400,000 and $600,000 next season. The unnamed potential investor told Ajemian that he wanted 50% ownership of the team.
The Heat suffered a major financial blow early last fall when record company executive Lionel Conway, citing personal problems, backed away from buying 25% of the team. Since then, Ajemian said he and Martin had been spending "between $15,000 and $20,000 a month" to keep the team afloat. Other owners did not return phone calls.
The future of the Heat has been a subject of rumors around the South Bay for several months. In August, Ajemian announced that he wanted to move the team to south Orange County. But he backed away from that idea after it became clear that a suitable stadium could not be found.
The Heat was frustrated in its attempts to find a better playing site after it left El Camino College's Murdock Stadium in 1989 for West Torrance High, a field considered too small and too antiquated by APSL officials. However, it cost less to play an entire season at West Torrance than it did to play a single game at El Camino.
Ajemian appeared to have succeeded recently in persuading the coalition of owners to move the team to Long Beach, where he said it would play at Veterans Stadium on the campus of Long Beach City College if it gets last-minute funding.
Ajemian has not completed the purchase of his 25% share of the team but has provided the club with funding since he was named president last spring. He said he and Martin, one of four South Bay men who founded the team in 1986, decided about a month ago to fold the team, but they have continued to seek out investors in advance of the league deadline.
The Heat is the fourth club in the 11-team APSL West that reportedly has financial troubles. Two of the clubs are seeking to move or merge, and owners of the Salt Lake City Sting have told league officials that the team is up for sale.
APSL West Chairman William C. Sage, who is president and general manager of the Seattle Storm, did not return phone calls. However, league publicist Donn Risolo said, "I can assure you there will be an APSL this year."
If the Heat fails to find financing by Friday and folds, Ajemian said he would not object to Community Services Director Bobby Bruch continuing the club's youth soccer camp program, which would probably retain the Heat name.
"We may keep the corporate name up to date," Ajemian said.