While the shut-down of Katy’s latest indoor football team may have caught fans, players and even the team’s head coach by surprise, the Houston Stallions did not leave town owing money for its use of the Merrell Center.
Katy ISD Director of Communications Steven Stanford confirmed the Stallions’ bills were paid in full.
“The team doesn’t owe the district any money. They paid all of their bills on time, in full,” Stanford confirmed in response to an inquiry from InstantNewsKaty.
While the good news is the Stallions do not owe the school district any money, the bad news is the team appears to have paid the bills with grant funds they received from the City of Katy.
Just three months ago, Stallions’ owner Joe Kramer received a tourism grant from the city in the amount of $33,430.84. According to the grant application Kramer filed, the money was to be used to pay for expenses associated with the team’s use of the Merrell Center for the 2012 season.
City council approved the grant, which is funded from revenues derived through the city’s hotel/motel tax. That revenue is then used to fund tourism grants to assist bringing additional visitors to the city.
It is unknown if the city will make any attempt to recoup any of the grant money since the team failed to finish the season for which it requested the grant.
Attempts to reach Kramer for comment on the decision to cease team operations have been unsuccessful.
The Stallions became the third indoor football team to play home games in the Merrell Center. None remained more than two seasons and all have had troubled histories.
The Katy Copperheads, the first team to play in the Merrell Center, played a single season in Katy before changing leagues, names and relocating to the Berry Center.
When the Copperheads left town, the team also left owing the school district almost $39,000 in unpaid rent and other expenses. The school district seized the team’s equipment and held it until the debt was settled.
The Copperheads ceased operations entirely in 2008.
The Katy Ruff Riders played their 2007 and 2008 seasons in the Merrell Center before moving to Abilene.
After the Ruff Riders pulled up stakes, a former team staffer blamed the move on poor attendance, weak community support and the inability to sell beer at the Merrell Center.
“Most teams average 2,000 – 4,000 people per game; we struggled to sell 1,000 seats. The beer sales probably had something to do with that, but there really wasn’t very much community support,” the former employee said. “In Abilene, it’ll be ‘their’ team; it wouldn’t have to compete for fans with the Texans, the Astros, the Rockets and the like.”
After the Ruff Riders made the move to Abilene, Albert Smith, the owner of the team while it was playing in Katy, pled guilty to federal payroll tax evasion charges. Although the charges did not involve the football team, Smith relinquished his ownership interest in the Ruff Riders, as well as the Odessa Roughnecks and the El Paso Generals.
As a part of the plea deal, the IRS agreed not to pursue criminal charges against Smith’s son, Brandon, who served as president of the parent company that owns the football teams.
Before the Stallions finalized the deal to call the Merrell Center home last year, the team saw deals fall through for two other proposed home venues.
The team played an abbreviated home season in Katy after problems leasing two earlier venues – Texas Southern University’s Health and Physical Education Arena in Houston and the Nutty Jerry Entertainment Center in Winnie – caused cancellations of early home games.