Local group buys Roughriders

06/22/02 Bismarck Tribune

Duane Anderson won't have to worry about divided loyalties anymore when the Bismarck Roughriders and Billings Outlaws square off tonight at the Bismarck Civic Center.

Chris Geiss never had any such concerns, which is part of the reason Anderson was willing to sell the Riders to an ownership group headed up by the Bismarck GM, a deal completed on Friday.

According to Geiss, the emotional and physical toll of owning two teams that were in such direct competition had Anderson inclined to sell.

"He's very emotional about his Outlaws just like we are about our Roughriders," Geiss said. "I think that had something to do with it."

In addition to Geiss, other members of the new ownership group include former Bismarck Blaze general manager Cody Schmidt, current Roughriders assistant GM Craig Serr and three undisclosed local investors.

Geiss, Schmidt and Serr have a "controlling interest" in the franchise. Terms of the deal were not disclosed and Anderson was not available for comment.

Geiss said that when Anderson brought indoor football back to Bismarck this season, it was with the understanding that he would eventually sell the team to Geiss.

"It was kind of the plan from the get-go that Duane would help get us up and running," Geiss said. "... Duane did a lot for us and we have to be thankful for that."

The trio certainly has a successful track record. First with Schmidt and the Blaze, and now with Serr and the Roughriders, Geiss has helped launch two football teams that have been more organized and stable than the leagues they play in.

In addition to his work with the Blaze, Schmidt had a stint with Peoria in af2 and this past season worked in the front office of the Bismarck Bobcats, who had their most successful financial year.

On the field the Roughriders are 9-3 and contending for the league championship. At the gate Bismarck has averaged 4,132 fans per home game. That's a great number by NIFL standards -- possibly first in the league (complete attendance figures are not available) -- but still a dip of 13 percent from the 4,764 the Blaze averaged two years ago in the IFL.

There was a problem with player payroll earlier in the season, but Geiss said that occurred when the sale of the team appeared to be imminent and was just a case of bad timing, not an indication of financial distress. He also noted that players were paid before the following game and that the team was in no financial difficulty.

"Those problems that did come up were basically because of the situation we were in, with the time frame of making (the sale) happen," Geiss said. "... If it was a financially strapped team, I don't think we'd be interested."

Geiss added that the Riders would likely be in the black this season, despite one-time costs associated with launching the team -- such as equipment, etc. -- of $75,000, and that it should definitely be profitable in the future.

The move comes at a time when several NIFL teams appear to be on shaky ground. In recent weeks the Tennessee Thundercats were taken over by the league, there was the bizarre "franchise switch" in River City, there has been a steady stream of departures (general manager, head coach, assistant coach) from the Oklahoma Crude and rumors of serious trouble in Winston-Salem.

Yet Geiss noted that this was a move that bolsters what appears to be the league's stronghold in the Midwest and Upper Midwest.

"Everybody that's in the area is stable," Geiss said. "They've all got good ownerships. Yeah, they've had some problems in the south. They've had some problems in the east."

Both Schmidt and Geiss added that much of the region's strength comes from local ownership, a category which also includes the Roughriders, now.

"We'll be able to make decisions based on what we know about Bismarck," Schmidt said. "We've been here long enough to know what we think we'll help with the team."

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