CEDAR RAPIDS — The press conference had the same hopeful tone, the same optimism for the shiny new sports product coming to town.
Nearly three years ago, Cedar Rapids Rampage General Manager Chris Kokalis stood before a U.S. Cellular Center crowd and announced professional soccer was coming to Cedar Rapids.
Wednesday, he made the same announcement in Kissimmee, Fla.
Kokalis was named GM of a Major Arena Soccer League expansion franchise to be based in Orlando, Fla., a move that likely signals the end of professional soccer in Cedar Rapids after three seasons.
“As far as the Rampage go, the league is still currently looking to find interested parties for the market,” Kokalis told The Gazette shortly before the Florida press conference. “I am working with them to see if there is a local party that would be interested in having a team continue in Cedar Rapids.”
In January, the ownership group that owns both the Rampage and the Cedar Rapids Titans indoor football team announced that the Titans were for sale. Kokalis admits he is far more optimistic about the future of the Titans — who are currently in their seventh season in the Indoor Football League — compared to the Rampage.
“We do have a very interested party for the Titans,” Kokalis said. “We’re encouraged by the interest of this particular group. We’ve been working with them for the past month or so, getting them information they have been asking for their due diligence.”
Rampage attendance numbers at the U.S. Cellular Center continued a steep decline. The club ranked eighth in the league with 2,772 fans per game during a five-win expansion season in 2015-16. The numbers dipped to 1,974 in 2016-17 despite a 12-win season, then dropped again to 1,518 for a playoff qualifier. That number ranked 13th out of 16 teams.
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“It’s been a struggle the past three years as far as maintaining the necessary attendance base,” Kokalis said. “It was hard for us to maintain those numbers after the first season.”
In February, Kokalis revealed the outdoor offshoot Rampage United would not compete this summer, which sent players scrambling for outdoor landing spots.
Former Loras player Alex Bradley will play for the Milwaukee Torrent of the National Premier Soccer League, Tony Walls returned to Saint Louis FC of the United Soccer League, and Gordy Gurson left Wednesday for Australia for an opportunity with a second-division club in the National Premier Leagues Tasmania.
“I really enjoyed the city,” Gurson said. “The longest I’ve lived in one city was three years and that is how long I lived in Cedar Rapids. It was starting to feel like home to me. … I felt comfortable. The people were great, the city was great. I loved being out, just going to eat and socializing with people in the city. Hopefully someday I am able to come back.”
Kokalis believes the Rampage attendance numbers could be a good fit for the lower-level MASL2, which requires a much-lower operating budget and just completed its first season.
“The arena is an amazing venue, the community is great, it’s definitely a sports market,” Kokalis said. “It’s just finding the right ownership group with the financial ability to sustain losses for several years at a time.”
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