Because negotiations for the sale of the Salt Lake Sting look so promising, the current owners have sent the $20,000 franchise fee to the league to keep the soccer franchise active until the sale can be made.

The Western Soccer League/-American Professional Soccer League that the Sting belongs to had set a deadline of Jan. 4, after which it would inactivate the franchise.But principal team owner Jack Donovan, who also heads up ownership of the Salt Lake Trappers baseball team, said Friday morning that talks with nine different groups of Salt Lake people interested in purchasing the team have been so fruitful, he sent the fee to the league on Thursday, "just to make sure."

The Sting/Trapper ownership had said in December it would allow the franchise to become inactive if it couldn't sell because the Trapper ownership foresees such major changes in minor-league baseball in the next four years that it decided it couldn't do justice to both teams.

Donovan predicts the Trappers could become part of a third major professional league, a maverick league. Soccer will also undergo a positive revolution in the coming years that could put Salt Lake City into a major national league simply because it has an active pro team.

Donovan said the current Sting ownership has talked with nine groups regarding a purchase of the club, and he says, "We've weeded it down to about five, and we're still getting contacts. We never anticipated the number of phone calls," he said.

Because of the holidays and people being out of town, he said, negotiations have been slowed, but sending the money to the league buys time. "Now we have an open window," he said, to pursue the sale.But Donovan added the next couple of weeks are the most opportune for someone to take over the club to have time to keep the camps and youth groups moving.

"We have everything ready for someone to just step in and make it go," Donovan said.

The Sting was started last summer and led the league in attendance.