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Storm suspends operations indefinitely

By Joe Smith | Times staff writer
Published: December 21, 2017 Updated: December 21, 2017 at 09:54 PM
KENT NISHIMURA | Times Tampa Bay Storm wide receiver Joe Hills (2) goes over the barrier into the stands after scoring a touchdown during an arena football game between the Tampa Bay Storm and the Jacksonville Sharks at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Saturday, May 24, 2014 in Tampa, Florida.

TAMPA ó The Storm, the winningest team in Arena Football League history, is ceasing operations indefinitely.

The Storm has won a league-best five ArenaBowl titles in its rich history and has been in Tampa Bay since 1991, arriving one year before the Lightning. But with the struggling league down to five teams last season, owner Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment decided to reallocate its resources.

"I cried when I found out," said Cindy Wright, president of the Tampa Bay Storm Surge Club and ticket holder since the beginning. "This is like losing someone in the family. I only hope maybe this is temporary and that we will see them again."

Steve Griggs, president of Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment, said the decision was tough but inevitable.

"From a local level, we put as much effort as we put into the Lightning," said Griggs, who is CEO of the Lightning. "But when you look at it from the league perspective, (they were) down to five teams (last season). Cleveland had left (it suspended play last month for 2018 and 2019), and it was becoming very, very expensive to manage the league. There were no revenues. There were no expansion teams. So with that, it became inevitable that we had to make a decision that was a difficult one knowing how much this team means to this city."

The Storm also set league records in attendance and wins as well as championships. Before the start of the 2011 season, the team was bought by Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment. Bucs Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks was named president. The Storm made it to the ArenaBowl this year, losing to Philadelphia.

Storm season-ticket holders will be contacted by their membership representatives to discuss options for money the organization had collected for 2018.

"We know the fans," Griggs said. "It was not easy, but we had to do what was right for our organization."

Griggs said Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment would consider bringing back the Storm if thereís a "stronger, reinvented" Arena League. The league suspended operations in 2008 before returning in 2010. It plans to play 2019 with four teams, in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington and Albany, N.Y.

"(The league) came back once before, and I think the league needs to reinvent itself, rebrand itself," Griggs said. "It needs to find the revenue streams in order to be self-sustaining so the teams arenít paying for everything.

"If Ö we see that thereís growth and stability, then I think thatís something that we would look at."

Times staff writer Roger Mooney contributed to this report.