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Parrots fly away after 16 games

With little attendance and mounting losses, team goes to North Carolina.

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 4, 2002

Winston-Salem Parrots. Doesn't really ring, but it'll have to do.

Mired in debt, hemorrhaging money and failing miserably at the box office, the sparse vestiges of St. Petersburg's latest failed sports venture were shipped to North Carolina on Tuesday after just 16 games. Parrots owner Bill Coffey, also founder and CEO of the new Atlantic Coast Hockey League, made the decision after trying to secure local ownership.

"I just don't know why this didn't work," Coffey said. "Maybe if we had more time. Maybe if we had a better staff. We had a pretty good hockey club.

"This is news for me. In 19 years in this business, I've never seen anything like this."

Averaging 797 fans -- lowest in the league by 690 -- through six dates at the Times Arena at Bayfront Center, with 25 season-ticket holders and virtually no corporate support, the Parrots, Coffey said, had lost $300,000 and were projected to lose $742,000. Coffey, who as league founder did not have to pay the $100,000 franchise fee, said he offered to absorb $250,000 of the losses to find a local owner.

Mike Barber, St. Petersburg's director of downtown facilities, said the team paid all of its bills before leaving.

"It's disappointing whenever you put that much effort into something," he said. "I feel badly for them. They invested cash and a lot of equity to get the team up and running. For us, it's disappointing, but financially, we're covered."

The Parrots, who were scheduled to play at home against Jacksonville on Tuesday, are expected to begin play next weekend at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where Coffey fielded his first minor-league hockey team in 1984.

Coffey took a poorly attended homestand Nov. 28-30 and the breakdown of the arena Zamboni machine as a sign it was time to leave.

"I was hoping maybe this week we could turn it around," he said. "We were selling tickets for $5 and $8 and the numbers still weren't going to be good. When the Zamboni broke down, I was thinking to myself, 'Someone is telling me to get out of here.' Nothing great happened for me here. I want to see the light at the end of the tunnel and I couldn't find the tunnel."

The Parrots join the Renegades (Sunshine Hockey League) and Tampa Bay Thunderdawgs, Windjammers, Sunblasters and Thrillers (basketball) in withering at the Bayfront Center, but Coffey continued to assert St. Petersburg as viable for minor-league sports. He even suggested an ACHL expansion team could come to town "if they would have us back."

"I just hope I didn't damage this town for minor-league hockey," he said.

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