Memphis Express owes city nearly $150,000

Records show defunct AAF team's unpaid debts, inflated attendance

By Updated: May 14, 2019 12:10 PM CT | Published: May 14, 2019 4:00 AM CT

After its short existence and a recent bankruptcy leaving a trail of creditors, the Alliance of American Football still owes the city almost $150,000 associated with the use of Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium by the Memphis Express, city officials confirmed to The Daily Memphian.

Legendary Field Exhibitions LLC – the AAF’s parent company – filed a voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition April 16 listing $89,750 owed to the city. However, there are $142,525 in outstanding invoices based on documents supplied by Memphis officials. 

Charlie Ebersol and Bill Polian’s AAF product didn’t make it through its initial season, playing only eight games before financial woes, a lack of partnership with the NFL and small crowds in several cities caused the league to suspend operations April 2.

The league’s bankruptcy filing lists more than 200 pages of creditors, including vendors, stadiums and other entities, including the city of Memphis. 

The leasing agreement with Global Spectrum LP (also known as Spectra), which manages Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium for the city, states the Express would reimburse the management company for selected expenses incurred while hosting games.

The league racked up $119,392 in outstanding expenses at the four games played in Memphis. The largest invoice – $52,776 – was associated with the Feb. 16 home opener against the Arizona Hotshots. The $13,813 charge for the March 24 overtime win over the Birmingham Iron was the lowest. 

Adding the cost of those four home games, along with $23,133 for practicing at the Liberty Bowl in March, brings the AAF to the $142,525 fee listed by the city.

Thomas Carrier, general manager of the stadium for Spectra, referred all questions about the arrangement with the Memphis Express to city officials.

“As of today’s date, there are some outstanding game expense invoices that had been billed to the team in the amount of $142,525.15,” city spokesman Dan Springer said in an April 22 email.

Springer did note that hosting four Express games “resulted in a total net operating profit to the Stadium of $118,458.”

That's because  $375,000 was paid up front for rental of the Liberty Bowl. Spectra’s licensing agreement required $75,000 per game for a minimum of five games. Based on that, the league prepaid $375,000 even though the AAF folded before the scheduled April 13 finale against the Atlanta Legends. 

Other stadiums that hosted AAF teams were not as lucky. 

The Hotshots, who used Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State, owe more than $1.2 million for use of that venue, according to the league’s bankruptcy filing. The University of Central Florida is out close to $1 million. UCF hosted the Orlando Apollos in Spectrum Stadium for three of their five scheduled home games. The final two home games never occurred after the league folded.

Based on documents supplied by the city of Memphis, the actual number of tickets sold for Express games lined up with what the eye told you, rather than announced attendance. The Express suffered through poor weather for most of its home games, and the city documents provide a more accurate picture of the number of people in the stands. 

As part of its contract, the AAF agreed to pay a $1 facility fee for each ticket – single-game and season tickets – sold to an Express game. The city created the fee to recoup money from stadium renovations over the past two years. 

The facility fee applies to tickets sold for each game. However, the AAF did not apply the fee to 2,500 complimentary tickets – part of the stadium agreement – nor the 30 tickets set aside in a "desirable section of the stadium for use by Spectra."

The facility fee for each sold ticket, plus the number of complimentary tickets provide insight into the potential maximum number of tickets used for each game. And even the highest consideration, combining the two ticket streams along with complimentary tickets, fails to equal attendance figures announced by the team.

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For the chilly, rainy season opener against the Hotshots, the Express announced an attendance of 11,980. However, based on the facility fee, only 7,312 single-game and season tickets were sold. Adding the maximum 2,500 complimentary tickets excluded from the facility fee, would mean only 9,812 people attended the game.

When the San Diego Fleet came to town March 2, the announced crowd was 13,621, but only $5,576 was collected in the $1-per-ticket facility fee. The Birmingham Iron supposedly drew 13,758 March 24, but the facility fee collected was $5,028.

The last game of the season brought the Apollos to Memphis, and an announced attendance of 12,417. The facility fee for that game was the lowest of the season, translating to 4,073 tickets sold.

Declining attendance contributed to steadily decreasing concession sales, particularly in alcohol. Opening night alcohol sales were $15,008, but by the final game against Orlando, the alcohol revenue was down to $4,816. Concessions sales totaled $150,122 over four home games while parking around the Liberty Bowl amounted to $36,430 in revenue. 

Springer said the city has “been in communication with the team on expectations to collect the balance of the agreed upon charges. If the game invoices are paid, that will only increase the revenue generated by the Express games at (the Liberty Bowl).”

As noted, the four Express games generated $118,458 in revenue. If the AAF/Express paid the outstanding balance of $142,525, net revenue would reach $260,983. 

“It was an interesting concept, and we were happy to have had the league come to Memphis,” Springer said. “It’s unfortunate that it did not work out as planned.”


Memphis AAF Memphis Express Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium Alliance of American Football Legendary Field Exhibitions
Jonah Jordan

Jonah Jordan

Jonah Jordan was born and raised in Memphis, graduated from the University of Memphis and has covered the Memphis Tigers for three years. When he's not writing, he enjoys golfing and eating barbecue.

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