Welcome back Dania!
Wow, it was great to see live “goatskin” jai-alai again. Rising from the ashes of what appeared to be their final performance last November, Dania jai-alai was open again.
Yes, it was only an exhibition featuring 8 teams and 16 players and held over 7 days between April 1st thru the 10th. And yes, there was no gambling allowed. And yes, an admission fee of $5 was charged to enter the fronton. And yes, travel expenses hindered many from attending (hotels were mostly in the $400 range except for the Motel 6 down the road at a “modest” $268.19 as noted on Kayak). But overall, the event was a big success.
Dania ownership and management was quite pleased with the outcome of the tournament. The largest crowd was on the opening night, and the second largest crowd was last Saturday night. Most of the games were well balanced with down to the final point thrillers, with partido’s going to 21 or 15 points a match in a double elimination format.
The event was put to together to gauge if jai-alai at Dania could make a comeback and eventually see its 70th anniversary. Well, the good news is that it will happen. As we reported here months ago, a two-month season will be held in December and January with a limited roster of 22-24 players and a restructured pay for the players. Its no secret Dania Jai-alai was on life support, losing an estimated $1-$2 million a year. As we have reported in the past, the ownership likes jai-alai and they want to keep it going, but not at a loss running well into 9 figures.
Analyzing the Event
The owners and management will be analyzing everything from start to finish during the second half of April to see if there is anything they could have done differently and if there is value and doing this more often. Benny Bueno, the players manager, was personally content with the turnout for the live audience and the viewership through their live stream. He has noted that while sitting in the audience and watching the crowd reaction, everyone was entertained and that was the purpose of the tournament.
The Pelota Press, who was one of the sponsors of the event, couldn’t agree more with Bueno’s assessment. Everybody in the audience of about 250 or so per performance thoroughly enjoyed it. There were dozens of former players there in attendance from Becky to Mendi. Regulars from Jesus to Al Q. There was even an employee who worked there for several years starting in 1961. She had some great stories to tell including having jai-alai greats like Chimela over to her house for dinner.
The final match was on Sunday afternoon and going great – the French team of Olharan and Etcheto were in an 11-11 tie in the 21-point “win it or lose it” match against Dania stars Barandika and Leke, when Olharan got nailed in the lower leg area on a throw in the front and hobbled off the court after going down. In obviously pain, he reemerged about 15-20 minutes later with a heroes-like welcome from the crowd. For a while it seemed like the tournament was going to come to an end, but the courage and determination of the 22-year-old had no intention of making a flight all the way from France to have it end like this. Unfortunately, the outcome did not end like a Rocky movie. The French team only scored one more point after the injury and losing the tournament to the favorites Barandika and Leke.
Loren Harris Tribute
The event was called the “Battle at the Palace” – Spring Tournament. On Saturday night, there as a nice tribute before the second of three matches that evening to the late Loren Harris, who passed away a couple months ago while teaching kids how to play jai-alai in Cancun Mexico. Dave LaMont did a great job announcing the tribute which included several photos of Loren on the large screen video scoreboard. It is still quite shocking we lost a great guy in Loren Harris who did so much for our sport in keeping it alive for the younger generation. He will never be forgotten.
What Went Good and What Went Wrong
Without a doubt, the event was a success. The true jai-alai fans were attending in steady numbers even though there was no betting allowed. This was the first time I could recall watching jai-alai without having the ability to bet on the outcome since the great Tournament of Champion events in the early 80s before the state allowed Partido betting in a “Win” bet only format. It was also the first time someone had to pay an admission since Orlando started charging for the Citrus events over a decade ago. One blemish was when the power went out on the court and scoreboard on game point last week. After about 45 minutes of darkness, the game called and resumed the next day. It’s obvious the tote system and lighting in there is antiquated – perhaps dating back to 1953! The format was great as well as the pairing of the games.
Dania has been Investing in the Sport
In a sign that Dania intends on keeping jai-alai alive, there were a couple of notable additions. A concession stand was constructed inside the fronton near the far back end that included popcorn, hot dogs and beer. It was a nice addition and put an end of having to look for a server or go all the way out of the fronton and into the casino to get something to eat or drink. We also noted a new trophy stand that took Benny and the refs to drag in and set up for the presentation of the checks to the top three teams in the tournament.
In bigger news, they are looking at upgrading their “1980s” broadcasting equipment. The system they are researching includes HD cameras and a broadcast software that will give them many more capabilities than they have now. Things such as slow motion, instant reply, upgraded graphics and the ability to show highlights and/or commercials during the programming. The implementation of that broadcast equipment will be discussed in the following months. This is an important step Dania MUST do to move forward.
Beginning in the month of May, Dania jai-alai will start to put a list of players together of who they would like to recruit for the December-January season. They will start talking to players during the summer and hopefully have a roster finalized by October. They also want to incorporate some more Partido playing during the months of December and January and probably have a competition similar to the “Fall Challenge” they had last year.
Holding a two-month season will create a demand to show up at some point; there will be no direct competition as Magic City is closed at that time of the year and it will be held during the two busiest tourist months of the year -including traditionally the two busiest weeks of the year – Christmas and New Years’.
Of course, the Pelota Press will keep you informed.