St. Petersburg Times
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Naming-rights deal may boost payroll

Lightning president says most of money will go to improve team.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 11, 2002

If you are Lightning general manager Jay Feaster, you're loving what Ron Campbell said this week.

If you are Ron Campbell, you are making a commitment that fans and people inside the organization will want you to keep.

The team's president said he is willing to invest into hockey operations a good portion of the money Tampa Bay got from the Times in a naming-rights deal that changed the Ice Palace to the St. Pete Times Forum.

"I think a lot of it does. I think most of it does," Campbell said when asked how much of this year's $2.1-million payment will go toward personnel. "Obviously, the (financial) losses have been well-documented. You need to keep finding revenue streams to reduce the losses and be able to invest more into the team to bring a perennial playoff team here."

Before anyone starts speculating on what high-priced players the Lightning will chase, a reality check.

There is not carte blanche. That would be impossible with a team that a recent study showed lost $18-million last season. There is, however, a reasonable assumption that at some point this season, when the team needs a jolt and Feaster proposes a trade that will increase payroll, it will be approved.

"Jay will come to me with what's important," Campbell said.

Tampa Bay is expected to pay between $29-million and $31-million in player salaries and bonuses, an increase of between $3-million and $5-million over last season, though that is still much less than last season's league average of $38-million.

"Jay Feaster was smiling as much as anyone when we signed those papers last week," Campbell said of the naming-rights agreement. "It takes a little bit more of the pressure off, just a little, but it helps."

"We've not had specific conversations as to where the dollars are going," Feaster said. "I look at it and say whatever is coming in, that's a positive for hockey operations. Whether it is put in directly or indirectly, it clearly is a positive."

The naming-rights deal is for 12 years with payments increasing by 3 percent each year until a final-year payment of $2.906-million. The Times has an option for another 12 years that includes a first-year payment of $3.5-million.

Campbell also said he expects an ongoing ticket push to increase revenues "20 to 30 percent" over the league-low $14-million collected last season.

"We'll have a significant improvement in ticket sales and sponsorships and that definitely helps you to invest more in your team," Campbell said.

FEWER COMPS: Campbell said the number of complimentary tickets will decrease from last season's average of 2,000. Average attendance last season was 15,722. The comps have been a sore point with some fans who pay for tickets.

"One of the things we have committed to people is a concerted effort to reduce the number of comps in the building," he said.

Campbell said the team gave away about 4,000 tickets per game in 1999-2000, when average attendance was 13,600.

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