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Storm relocation brewing?

Oklahoma City a possibility for Arena franchise that has lost at least $1.5-million.

Tampa Bay Storm owner Woody Kern said Friday he is entertaining the possibility of moving the Arena Football League franchise and confirmed that Oklahoma City is among the potential destinations. The Storm has lost $300,000 to $700,000 in each of the five seasons he has owned the team.

"We are the Tampa Bay Storm, and we remain the Tampa Bay Storm. However, we are exploring other options," Kern said from his office in Denton, Texas, where he is the president, chief executive officer and majority stockholder of HEA Management Group, Inc. "Oklahoma City is among several we've looked into.

"Personally, I like the Tampa area. This is a business decision."

There are signs that indicate a move to Oklahoma City is a strong possibility.

Oklahoma City was approved in July for a franchise in the new minor-league AFL affiliate, Arena Football2, which begins play next year. Brad Lund and Horn Chen, the prospective joint owners of that team, the Bullfrogs, said the AFL recently notified them there had been a change of plans.

"All I can say is we were informed on Tuesday that we are no longer a member of AFL2 due to the fact an existing team is moving into our market," said Lund, president of the minor-league hockey Oklahoma City Blazers, who were to share the 13,500-seat Myriad Convention Center with the Bullfrogs.

Lund said Chen, who could not be reached, was told by the league that team is the Storm. AFL commissioner C. David Baker would not confirm that the Storm _ or any other team _ is relocating.

Baker said a league representative visited Oklahoma City on Thursday simply as part of a "fact-finding mission."

"We'll examine every option," Baker said. "Right now, we're in a unique situation because of the growth of the league and the growing popularity of the sport. There are some outstanding opportunities not only for expansion, but also for existing teams to relocate."

Ice Palace and Tampa Bay Lightning president Ron Campbell said he was informed by the AFL that the Storm is bound for Oklahoma City.

"However, I do know for a fact it's not a done deal in Oklahoma City as far as a lease being signed," he said. "If the deal isn't working out in Oklahoma City, (Kern) will honor his lease (two more years at the Ice Palace). We'd like to do right by the fans of Tampa Bay and for ourselves. We would like to find a way to keep the Storm here."

Palace Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Lightning and the Ice Palace lease, filed an application for an expansion team with the AFL on Friday, Campbell said.

"One of our goals is to keep the event card up here and keep the lights on," Campbell said. "We'd like to keep (an AFL) team here, ideally."

The Storm moved from St. Petersburg to Tampa's Ice Palace in 1997 and attendance steadily has dropped. The average announced attendance this season was 10,695, seventh-highest in the 15-team league, but down from last year's 11,675.

"You just can't beat your head against the wall forever," Kern said. "You have to look at this as a financial thing."

Kern and Campbell have had talks aimed at keeping the team in Tampa. One possibility has the Lightning and Storm sharing marketing strategies.

During ArenaBowl weekend (Aug. 21 and 22), the league will hold mandatory meetings for its board of directors in the city of the host team.

"Perhaps then things will be a little clearer," Kern said.

_ Staff writer Damien Cristodero contributed to this report.