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A sampling of success alters owner's outlook

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published July 6, 2003

Financial success is relative in Lightning land.

President Ron Campbell said team owner Palace Sports & Entertainment lost about $10-million last season on its Tampa operation, which includes the team and the lease on the St. Pete Times Forum. Hefty, but still about $8-million less than it said it lost in 2001-02.

Campbell said he's talking only cash flow, which improved 44.4 percent.

"You still have to realize you're running a business, and the reason to run a business is to make a profit, and it's highly unlikely we're going to make it next year," said Campbell, who pegs company losses at about $48-million since it took over in June 1999. "But there is no question we're pleased with the progress we've made."

So pleased that instead of talking about possibly selling or moving the franchise, as he did during the season, Campbell is predicting a lasting relationship between the company and the Tampa Bay area.

"Our goal is to be here long-term," he said. "I want to stress that this franchise will be here for years and years to come."

There are still "challenges" that could affect the company's involvement.

Integral is a new collective bargaining agreement owners hope will include a salary cap, and a court case challenging a $3-million tax assessment on the Times Forum. Ticket sales also will be important. The Lightning wants to go from last season's $17-million to at least $21.5-million.

For now, though, Campbell is head cheerleader, "looking at the glass half-full."

"Fourteen months ago, 18 months ago, our ownership wanted to know, is this thing spiraling out of control or can we get our hands around it?" he said. "We got our hands around it and reined it in. What we did was run the business more responsibly."

The company kept the Lightning's player payroll low (it was $28.1-million last season, about $14-million below the league average). It put together a naming rights deal with the St. Petersburg Times, worth about $2.1-million a year, improved corporate sponsorships and benefitted from the Lightning's first playoff appearance since 1996.

Add a sold-out ArenaBowl, the announcement the Times Forum will host the 2008 women's Final Four and optimism about the tax case, and Campbell sees "light at the end of the tunnel."

How bright? Campbell said a new CBA could represent "a new world" that better reconciles revenues and expenses. And ticket sales are crucial.

"We are, albeit slowly, fulfilling our promise and putting a much better product on the ice," Campbell said. "Obviously, we want the fan base to say, "We appreciate that and support you.' I have all the confidence they will."

COMING STORM: If you thought Vinny Lecavalier's contract squabble before 2001-02 was messy, consider what agent Pat Morris said about his upcoming negotiations for center Brad Richards.

"Brad respects Vinny as a teammate and a friend, but one only has to look at the performances in the first three years in the context of Brad compared to Vinny, and you can draw your own conclusions as to how aggressive I will be on Brad's behalf."

Richards had 198 points (58 goals, 140 assists) in his first three seasons in which he made $975,000 in base salary per year. Lecavalier had 146 points (61 goals, 85 assists).

Lecavalier signed a four-year, $10.2-million contract after holding out of training camp. Morris will be looking for more.

BY THE WAY: If you are wondering why former Mighty Ducks left wing Paul Kariya took a pay cut from $10-million to $1.2-million to sign with the Avalanche, consider Vinny Prospal.

The Lightning left wing became an unrestricted free agent at 28 instead of the usual 31 because he was a 10-year pro and made less than the league's average salary. Kariya, who will be 29 next season, has the same thing in mind. As a bonus, he gets a shot at a Stanley Cup with friend Teemu Selanne.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tampa Bay is having trouble signing Swedish defenseman Andreas Holmqvist, whom the team feels can compete for a roster spot. If he is not signed by July 15, he will likely play in Europe. ... July 15 also is the day by which players must apply for salary arbitration. Tampa Bay's eligibles are defensemen Brad Lukowich and Dan Boyle, left wings Fredrik Modin and Andre Roy, goaltender John Grahame, and right wings Ben Clymer and Shane Willis. ... In addition to offering Modin and right wing Sheldon Keefe to the Islanders for defenseman Roman Hamrlik, Tampa Bay also included, in various packages, Clymer, right wing Jimmie Olvestad and a second-round selection in this year's draft.

[Last modified July 6, 2003, 01:32:38]

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