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Mavericks owner Jerry Nelson
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The Mavericks play their home games at Hirsch Coliseum.
Ask Kelly Wells, vice president of Sports and Tourism Marketing for the Shreveport–Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau, what it takes to create a successful sports franchise in an area like northwest Louisiana and he points to two factors.
The first is solid ownership. “You’ve got to have the kind of owner who can put the money in,” Wells says. “It is hard to make money [in minor league sports]. You can, but it’s expensive.”
The second factor in the success of a franchise is a solid business plan. “You need a successful plan in order to get the support of the sports commission and local businesses,” Wells adds.
Wells highlights some recent examples of sports franchises that have called the Shreveport-Bossier City market home. The Captains of the American Association––an independent baseball league––played at Fair Grounds Field in Shreveport until the team was relocated to Lerado, Texas, in 2011.
The Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs were a minor league hockey team that played, first in Hirsch Memorial Coliseum in Shreveport, and then the CenturyLink Center in Bossier City. The team began in 1997 with New Mexico-based ownership, but it was purchased in 2002 by Louisiana native John Madden who operated the team until it was disbanded in 2011. Along the way, the Mudbugs won three regular season titles and four league championships.
According to Wells, one team that appears poised for continued success is also one of the newest to arrive in the area. The Shreveport-Bossier Mavericks of the American Basketball Association began to play in northwest Louisiana just over a year ago and have already put down roots. Wells says that Mavericks owner Jerry Nelson has made a significant investment in restoring Hirsch Coliseum, has demonstrated willingness to be involved in the community, and in the process has created five full-time jobs in the team’s front office.
If the Mavericks appear on their way to becoming an asset for Shreveport and Bossier City, Debra Green, the team’s director of marketing, seems just as pleased with what the community has to offer the franchise.
“We were based in Beaumont,” Green says. “But Beaumont is not a weekend destination. We were able to squeeze out a good franchise and a great team.” But there appeared to be little potential for growth. So after winning the ABA championship following the 2010-11 season, the Maverick’s organization chose to sit out the following two seasons and to consider their options.
“The ABA actually came to us about placing the team in Shreveport,” Green recalls. So the team relocated and rejoined the ABA in time to win the league championship following the 2013-14 season, playing its home games at Hirsch Coliseum.
Has this been a good move for the team? “Yes,” says Green. “People were skeptical at first. Teams have come and gone [from the Shreveport area]. But our owner, Jerry Nelson, says to ‘do what you say,’ and people have accepted us.”
It helps that the team’s players are actively involved in engaging the community. “Our players are on salary all summer,” Green says, “hosting camps and other activities.” This is uncommon in the low-budget ABA where some teams don’t pay their players at all. But Nelson can afford to provide for the team’s personnel. As a result, Green says, the players don’t have to have second jobs during the season, and many don’t seek out work in the off season either. “They want to play basketball,” Green said. “[The players] basically have a full-time job thanks to Shreveport.”
Another aspect of the team’s potential lies with Hirsch Coliseum. As a part of their full-year lease of the facility, the Mavericks are allowed to make in kind improvements in place of lease payments. Green says this provision has allowed the team to begin upgrading the locker rooms and installing climate controlled workout facilities.
Would the Maverick’s welcome the opportunity to share Hirsch with another team or teams? Yes, says Green, noting that the facilities at Hirsch could be used for a number of sports. “We would be willing to speak to anyone.”
Green says that ultimately it is the organization’s desire to serve the needs of the young people of Shreveport and Bossier City, and the more activities to that end the better. “We want the Hirsch full of kids, however that happens. Benefiting the youth of Shreveport-Bossier is our goal.”
If Mavericks owner Jerry Nelson and his staff and players can provide the sort of environment that Green points to as a primary purpose, it is more than possible that the Mavericks will remain on Kelly Wells’ list of successes for years to come and the relationship between the team and the region they now call home will remain vital.
By Jim Freeman