Milwaukee Wave owner Mike Zimmerman’s foray into minor league baseball — which ultimately could lead to a team in metro Milwaukee — has been bumpy and he is suing former partners for nearly $600,000 in outstanding loans incurred in a defunct team in Rockford, Ill.
Zimmerman’s company also is involved in earlier litigation filed by a Frontier League owner over Zimmerman’s engagement with a team in Kokomo, Ind. Zimmerman and his attorney Jacques Condon say they will succeed in attaining a dismissal of Zimmerman’s company as a defendant in the Kokomo suit.
Despite the multiple complications in launching his baseball team ownership, Zimmerman says he remains committed to landing a team for the Milwaukee area, preferably at his proposed stadium at The Rock Sports Complex in Franklin. He said he plans to launch a franchise in 2018.
“We are hopeful and optimistic about the prospects of getting a deal done with the city of Franklin and Milwaukee County,” Zimmerman said. “Our goal is to announce a team in the American Association this fall and then begin moving dirt late fall or early spring (2017) on a new stadium.”
The new stadium also would become the home field for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s baseball team that now plays at Lincoln Park in Milwaukee.
The Rockford lawsuit, which Zimmerman’s MKE Sports & Entertainment filed in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee, alleges his company twice lent money to owners of the Frontier League’s Rockford Aviators. Zimmerman was to be the team’s CEO and his company was to manage the team, but league officials determined in June 2015 he couldn’t be involved with the Aviators because his ownership of a team in Kokomo violated league bylaws.
The lawsuit claims the Rockford Aviators owners owe MKE Sports $573,185 for an outstanding promissory note and a revolving-demand promissory note.
Zimmerman told the Milwaukee Business Journal in August 2014 he was considering buying the Rockford franchise and relocating it to Franklin. However, Zimmerman terminated his company’s managed services agreement with the Rockford Aviators in summer 2015 and the team ceased operations after the end of the 2015 season.
Christopher Hanners and Bryan Wickline, both of Chillicothe, Ohio, are defendants in the Rockford suit and are identified in the suit as Aviators owners. Neither could be reached for comment.
Hanners also is the Frontier League’s founder and Wickline is the commissioner of the Prospect League, which includes Zimmerman’s Kokomo Jackrabbits.
Both leagues are called independent and teams are not affiliated with Major League Baseball feeder systems.
The Kokomo litigation surfaced in July 2015 when the owner of the Frontier League’s Washington (Pa.) Wild Things sued MKE Sports and Entertainment, according to an article in the Washington Observer-Reporter.
The Wild Things were negotiating with the city of Kokomo to lease the city’s stadium but the city chose MKE Sports. Zimmerman’s company ultimately entered the Kokomo team in the Prospect League, which is a summer wood-bat league for college players.
Zimmerman’s attorney Condon said MKE Sports has filed multiple motions to be dismissed as a defendant in the Kokomo case. Condon said he anticipates a federal court judge will issue a final ruling in the coming weeks.
MKE Sports & Entertainment is the umbrella company for Zimmerman’s various team ownership and sports-business ventures. The company’s offices are in downtown Milwaukee adjacent to the home of indoor soccer’s Milwaukee Wave at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.