St. Petersburg Times
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Wilson: Local presence is welcome

The CEO of the Lightning's ownership group says PS&E would only sell a small share.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 23, 2002

TORONTO -- Tom Wilson, CEO of Lightning owner Palace Sports&Entertainment, said the company would welcome local corporate investors buying a small piece of the team.

Wilson said this is not a sign PS&E, which has owned the Lightning and the Ice Palace lease since June 1999, is looking to eventually sell the team. It is, he said, a reaction to the company's desire to keep the team despite serious financial losses.

Wilson estimated the Lightning has lost $30-million since PS&E took over.

"If someone came in and had a strong local presence and wanted to be part of the team, not take it over, but be part of the team, we'd absolutely have some conversations with (them)," Wilson said Saturday while watching the draft at the Air Canada Centre.

"You can't have an owner in any league continue to lose the kind of dollars that we're losing and just say, "Let's lose more.' We don't mind leading the charge, we really don't. We've done it for three years, and we'll lead it this year."

Wilson said he believes a local investor would help the Lightning connect with the area's corporate community which, he said, is a key to the team's financial future.

Though he said ticket sales are going "extraordinarily well" he added: "We can't sell enough tickets to get into the black."

Wilson said the Lightning has been a tough sell. Not that he is surprised. He said when PS&E bought the team, the market, generally, had "pretty much turned their back" on the Lightning because it had been "abused and stepped on for six or seven years" by the team's lack of success.

He said building the Lightning from "less than an expansion team" was much tougher than anticipated, and that a local investor could ease the perception of PS&E, based in Auburn Hills, Mich., as an absentee owner.

"We're not looking to sell control, but it would enhance us a lot," Wilson said. "Forget about the dollars, it would enhance us to have somebody around the fans could touch and feel."

More than that, fans want to cheer a playoff team, which the Lightning has been only once in its 10 seasons and not since 1996. Wilson said it is a collaborative effort.

"We've got to increase payroll and we've got to make the team better," he said. "But we need the support of the fans and particularly the corporate community to see that we can climb that ladder.

"We're probably always going to be in the red and we don't mind doing that but we can't keep digging out from these holes that we've had."

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