Grizzlies financial struggles dampen opening day excitement

FRESNO, Calif.

But the Grizzlies' financial struggles are threatening to dampen the excitement of opening day this Friday.

The Grizzlies still owe the City of Fresno back rent for last year as they prepare to kick off this year.

Numbers are big for baseball fans so here are a couple concerning the Grizzlies. The team lost $800,000 in 2010, probably a similar amount last year, and they owe the city as much as $400,000 -- mostly in back rent.

But it's still possible they can start 2012 -- on Friday the 13th -- with a little luck, and clean slate.

The excitement of opening day has baseball fans lining up to get tickets -- three days before the first home game for the Grizzlies.

"I just bought a group tickets for opening night," said Aaron Shamp. "It's pretty much a tradition I do every year."

Shamp scooped up seven tickets and couldn't even get as close to the diamond as he'd like.

The Grizzlies expect a sellout on Friday.

Nearby restaurants are ready to profit, offering discounts to people who park at the stadium.

But even as the Grizzlies prepare the green infield grass, they're trying not to let their books sink too deep in the red.

"I think the problem is a cash flow issue for the team," said Fresno City Council member Lee Brand. "I think they get certain revenues like naming rights, they presell their season tickets and so on at different times of the year."

Brand helped renegotiate the city's deal with the Grizzlies three years ago.

The team pays the highest rent in minor league sports at $1.5 million a year, but the city finagled the deal to give the Grizzlies credits and subsidies to cover about half the rent.

And the team has the largest naming rights deal in minor league baseball -- getting $1 million a year from the Chukchansi casino to put their name on the stadium.

Still, Brand says, like many sports franchises, the Grizzlies are a money-losing operation, and they're struggling to keep up with the bills.

But don't expect a quick eviction.

The city would be a big loser if the team fails.

"It's a major anchor for downtown, so if for some reason that team decided to move, they become insolvent, it would be a major issue for the city of Fresno and a major blow to downtown revitalization," Brand said.

The Grizzlies and the city have scheduled and rescheduled a press conference a few times to discuss the debt details.

That's now expected to happen later this week, possibly on opening day.

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