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CEO: Early expectations too high

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2002

If Tom Wilson had to do it again, the CEO of Lightning owner Palace Sports & Entertainment would have been more up front with the fans.

If Tom Wilson had to do it again, the CEO of Lightning owner Palace Sports & Entertainment would have been more up front with the fans.

Wilson said it was a mistake to say, after the company bought the Lightning and the St. Pete Times Forum lease in June 1999, that the team would be quickly competitive.

"This was an expansion team in terms of talent," he said. "We should have said that up front."

Wilson addressed some major issues in a phone interview from his office in Auburn Hills, Mich.

He said since his announcement at the June draft that Palace Sports would be interested in selling a minority portion of the team to local investors that he has had "a number" of inquiries.

He also reiterated the team is not for sale despite losses of about $38-million the past three years.

Most interesting, though, was his admission of a public relations gaff after purchasing the team.

"The biggest mistake was judging how far we had to go," Wilson said. "But with Rick (former general manager Dudley), we felt we could turn it around quicker. So we came in and said we were going to win."

All that did, Wilson said, was heighten expectations to unrealistic levels. That made the backlash worse when the team struggled and ownership was seen by some as doing things on the cheap.

While the organization believes it could contend for a playoff spot this season, it has taken three years and 150 losses (including overtime) to get to that point. Even then, the plan hinges on a lot of "what ifs" and a lack of major injuries.

"In retrospect we could have lowered people's expectations," Wilson said. "Maybe it could have bought us some time."

As for selling a minority share of the team, Wilson said the slumping economy has made the process difficult.

"It's a different time," he said. "There are a lot of people who may be interested but who have taken a real beating in the stock market."

Still, Wilson said, "Obviously, there have been a number of feelers, and we continue to have conversations with a number of people. There's nothing imminent, but you know how these things go, there's nothing, nothing, nothing, and then something triggers."

Asked how he would respond if someone made an offer for the entire team, Wilson said, "I never say never, but it's not something that's on our mind right now. We're not looking for someone to do that. We're not even passively looking to do that."

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