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Slow pace of ticket sales concerns owner

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 10, 2003

TAMPA -- The Lightning is confident tonight's opening playoff game against the Capitals will sell out. As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, about 1,500 tickets remained for Game 1 at the St. Pete Times Forum and 3,300 for Saturday's Game 2.

That it has taken so long has reached the radar of owner Bill Davidson.

"It's not disturbing, but it's not a great sign," Davidson said Wednesday.

Especially at a time when Palace Sports & Entertainment, which the Lightning is part of, is evaluating selling the team.

Palace Sports has said its Tampa operation will lose $10-million to $15-million this season to bring its claimed losses since June 1999, when it bought the team and the Times Forum lease, to between $48-million and $53-million.

"We have to continually look at the venue," Davidson said. "We've never been, if you will, subsidized by the city, the county, et cetera, like other teams have been. So we're at a disadvantage there. Then you have to find out whether you have a real fan base, and some of those things you continually evaluate."

Davidson said the biggest evaluation will be the new collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players association. The current agreement expires in September 2004, and some predict a work stoppage of 12-18 months.

If the new agreement is not favorable, Davidson reiterated the team could be sold.

"That's the way we see it," he said. "All we can do is wait and make a judgment after how it works out."

Davidson, who will attend tonight's game, said he anticipates holding the team at least through the negotiations. He said Palace Sports is not looking for a buyer.

"... There is no market out there, so you just waste your time if you're looking for a buyer," Davidson said. "They're not stupid. It's a difficult situation today to be faced with the same uncertainties. It's a question of staying the course and seeing what happens.

"If somebody made an offer you couldn't turn down, you're going to take it. But that's not going to happen."

Because "it's impossible to make money in the NHL," he said. "As far as I know, you have one viable franchise out of 30 teams, and that's Toronto. The rest of them are losing good amounts of money. Maybe one or two are breaking even, but I doubt it."

Asked to sum up life in the NHL, Davidson said, "It's not a bright picture."

BUGGED: Lightning mascot ThunderBug is living on the roof of the Times Forum until Game 1 is sold out. Today is his 15th day in a tent-like living space.

"I can't understand how we can sell out a regular-season game and not the playoffs," he said. "The people who come to our games have been great. But the people who say we're waiting for a team that wins, well, we're here. Step up to the plate."

WRIST WRESTLING: Jaromir Jagr said his sore right wrist "is getting better and better every day."

Still, Jagr, who broke the wrist about a month ago, also spoke about how he changed his shot to deal with the pain, and now, with the pain reduced, how he must regain his original form.

It has been a tough road. Jagr has no goals in his past seven games and two in 11.

"I would like to shoot, and I would like to score. It didn't happen," he said. "I wanted to feel good about my game. It didn't happen."

Capitals coach Bruce Cassidy said Jagr "looked better the last couple of games."

"Whether his game is where it needs to be only he can tell you that," he said. "I talked to him about how he is. He said, 'I'll give it my best shot.' He's being pretty coy with everyone, myself included."

TICKETS: To alleviate an expected crush at the box office, the Lightning is asking fans to pick up will-call tickets between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Anyone showing up between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. will get a lunch coupon. Anyone showing up between 1 and 5 p.m. will get a coupon for a drink.

The usual 200 $8 tickets go on sale at 9 a.m. today at the box office, Ticketmaster online or at (813) 301-6600 or (813) 287-8844.

Doors open at 5 p.m.

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