Ali resigns, but Mania not folding

A-League team will finish season, plans to reorganize

July 06, 1999|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Mania's president has departed and the team has closed its Columbia offices, but the cash-strapped, A-League team's new day-to-day manager says the club expects to finish its first season and rebuild for next year.

General manager Sheldon Phillips of Columbia, who was a law-school student when this season opened, said that founding owner A. J. Ali submitted a resignation letter this weekend.

"He wants to spend more time with his family, with his church, and said it was time to step away," Phillips said.

Ali, 35, a Columbia entrepreneur who attended Meade High School and said he had an interest in a former Western League team in Sacramento, Calif., agreed, but declined to elaborate. He fronted a group of mainly Columbia-area investors who bought the franchise last year.

Ali and Phillips denied rumors that the team, which has the league's second-worst record at 1-12, is being sold.

Ali admitted about three weeks ago that the Mania had serious cash problems. Investors never put up the full $500,000 the team needed to operate, he said, and additional investment was being sought.

He attributed some of the team's multiple problems, which include attendance in the hundreds rather than the 2,500 needed, to UMBC Stadium, where the team played six of its first nine games.

The team moved its home schedule -- six games remain -- to Anne Arundel Community College days after Ali made the team's financial struggle public. Phillips said "about 700" watched a 4-1 loss to the Hershey Wildcats on Saturday night at the Arnold school.

Six investors are taking "more assertive roles," Phillips said yesterday, and the team is operating from an Ellicott City advertising agency, the owner of which is a team partner.

"What A.J. said wasn't true about the team's capitalization," Phillips said. "It's been no different than any start-up business. The problem was with how the money was spent. One of the problems we've had is saying things that aren't realistic. I'm not a dreamer."

The team has scored four goals and given up 26, and the general manager said that, competitively, the Mania "has a lot of problems, especially down the middle, but we're in no position to get impact players, the players we need to turn things around.

"They're a bit, no, way out of our budget," he said. "I'm trying to get some new players in, mostly from this area, without making the team insolvent."

Rosters must be locked in by Aug. 1 under league rules, he said, for a regular season that ends on Labor Day weekend.

He also said the team "underestimated the level of play in this league" in originally selecting players. Few had A-League experience.

Phillips declined to talk about the team's debts, saying that Ed Miller, a Columbia garden-center owner, investor and new controller, was dealing with vendors who are owed money.

"One of the ways you get support is to pay your bills," Phillips said. "We're doing everything we can to fix the situation. We have adequate cash, and we're going to get some more."

For next season, Phillips said, the team needs $750,000 to operate. "We always can use more investors," he said. "We need ticket packages that make sense, more sponsorships and camps -- all of which we need to be working on."

Pub Date: 7/06/99

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