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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

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

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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