The Cary Invasion semiprofessional basketball team has played its home games in downtown Cary since it was founded in 2010.
The team has increased its fans by the hundreds during the past few years – drawing average crowds of 300 people to the Herbert C. Young Community Center, compared to an average of 50 people per game three years ago
But while town officials say they’re pleased with this growth, they grappled with how much financial assistance the town should provide the for-profit organization. On Nov. 19, the council approved providing $16,000 in assistance for the current 2015-16 season with a 4-2 vote. Councilmen Don Frantz and Ed Yerha voted in opposition, requesting more assistance.
“It was a good start, because it shows they support the team and want them to stay in downtown Cary,” said Terry “Doc” Thorne, owner of the Cary Invasion.
Before the meeting, the Cary Invasion already was receiving about $13,000 worth of support from the town in the form of direct town costs, such as providing facility staff, and lower-than-normal rental fees. The additional $3,000 in assistance will lower the team’s rental fees this season to about $8,500.
In exchange, the town will enter into an agreement with the team, where the team would be required to provide additional services, including appearing at some town functions and other community events. The team already makes these types of appearances.
Some council members, including Yerha, cited a new benefit the team is giving the town this year. Three Cary Invasion games will be televised live on ESPN3. This first televised game was mid-November, and the other two will be Dec. 5 and 12.
“In talking with Mr. Thorne, the uniforms, they could have put ‘Invasion’ on the front of the uniforms, but he didn’t,” Yerha said. “He put ‘Cary.’ ... I know I’m going to be so proud to see that when I watch those games. What value that has, I don’t know. It certainly has some.”
Yerha and Frantz advocated for assisting the team even more for the current season.
“I do see some value here,” Frantz said. “I see a team or organization that is slowly but surely growing, and I would kind of like to encourage that a little bit more.”
The Cary Invasion, made up of former collegiate players who play in other pro leagues overseas, typically plays about 12 regular-season games a season. Last season, it had a record of 10-3 in the Tobacco Road Basketball League, which includes teams from Durham, Raleigh and other North Carolina cities.
For profit or nonprofit
But some council members raised questions about how long the town should provide such assistance to a for-profit organization.
Town facilities normally are not rented to for-profit organizations unless there is benefit to the community. But Doug McRainey, director of the town’s parks, recreation and cultural resources department, said if the Cary Invasion organization would convert to a nonprofit, it would be more in line with the town’s policy and could potentially qualify for nonprofit funding from the town.
Councilwoman Lori Bush said she is most concerned about being consistent when it comes to how the town deals with nonprofit and for-profit funding requests.
“If it was a not-for-profit now, we probably wouldn’t be having half this discussion,” she said. “ I think that we need to help support them for a period of time, but I would like to make that time very determinate. Help them through the hump, but I think the point of this is we need to be consistent when it comes to how we treat our champions and cheerleaders for the town.”
Even though the Cary Invasion is a for-profit organization, Thorne said they are not making any money yet. He also said he isn’t sure whether he would seek nonprofit status for the team.
Usage of the community center
The council also has concerns about the extent a for-profit team is using the community center. When the Cary Invasion started in 2011, the team only needed space for eight games a season. This season, the team could use it for up to 21 games and 38 practices – a maximum of 142 hours.
“The pros, of course, are they are great investors for the town, and they are great entertainment for downtown,” Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said. “The con is we don’t have a lot of community centers, and we’re giving up a lot of time at one of the main community centers in town.”
Some council members suggested helping the team find other places to play or practice. Others, including Frantz, are interested in keeping the team downtown.
“Part of me actually wants to keep them downtown,” said Frantz, who represents the district covering downtown. “I do think, over time, as downtown continues to revitalize and thrive, and as the team continues to grow and the word gets around, it’s going to become more popular, and I’m hoping at some point in time, it will be a huge asset for us to have.”
Thorne said he would be interested in working with a sponsor to build another place for the team to play in Cary.
“Our name is growing,” he said. “I’m a little impatient. I’d like to see it grow a little faster. I’d like to see more support from the community, because we really do put on a show.”
Correction: A previous version of this story said the team was founded in 2011. It was founded in 2010. In an accompanying photo, Cary Invasion head coach Erasto Hatchett was misidentified as Chris La Rocca.
Kathryn Trogdon; 919-460-2608; @KTrogdon