tampabay.com

Q&A: So, what's this all mean?

By the Times staff
Published August 8, 2007


In a stunning announcement Tuesday, Palace Sports & Entertainment revealed it was selling the Tampa Bay Lightning and its associated assets to a group led by Florida developer Jeff Sherrin, film producer Oren Koules and Doug MacLean, former NHL coach and general manager.

What's being sold?
The deal includes the Lightning hockey team, lease of the St. Pete Times Forum and two chunks of adjacent land worth an estimated $17.5-million.

And how much did the new owners pay for all that?
About $200-million.

What happens next and when?
The ownership group must be approved by the NHL's Board of Governors. The earliest that can happen is mid-September.

Why is Palace Sports selling now?
Palace Sports says current owner William Davidson has lost at least $76-million over eight years. The Detroit billionaire can probably afford the hit, but at 83 he's weary of running a team from 1,000 miles away.

Will these three own the entire team, or are there other partners?
Coral Springs developer Jeff Sherrin said there will be 9 or 10 principal owners, but declined to discuss each one's share. Sherrin said he and former Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean will handle the day-to-day operations, with MacLean "running the show," and Sherrin's impact more on the business side.

Haven't the Lightning said they're losing money? Does Absolute Sports see this becoming a moneymaker?
The new owners plan to lose money initially but vowed to make the operation profitable by rebuilding a championship team and embarking on a Hollywood-style marketing blitz.

Could the team move? How large are the obstacles to that?
The new owners were emphatic Tuesday that there's "absolutely zero chance" of the Lightning moving. Sherrin and MacLean plan to move to the Tampa Bay area. "This isn't a toy," said Koules. "We're very, very serious about it."

The team's original lease, however, lacks teeth in forcing the franchise to stay. In recent years, county officials have extended some financial incentives to the team that add strings and penalties should it try to leave in the next few years.

How long as this deal been in the works?
About seven weeks. Sherrin said the idea of buying an NHL team was broached over a couple beers at MacLean's house the night the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup (June 6). Sherrin said, at the time, he felt there was a "1-percent chance" of making it happen.

In the past, what have analyst types said is the value of the team?
Forbes magazine in 2006 said the Lightning was worth $172-million, 11th in the NHL.

How is the franchise regarded league-wide in terms of things like attendance?
MacLean raved about how the Lightning had the third-best fan base of teams in the United States (and eighth in the league). It was one of the selling points to the group, he said.

Does this mean the team might spend the rest of the $6-million it has under the salary cap (for a goalie, perhaps)?
Doug MacLean did not commit. He said he thought goaltender Marc Denis, a huge disappointment last season, will "bounce back," and that Johan Holmqvist was one of the summer's top unrestricted free agents and has a "good upside."

What about the front office folks and coaching staff?
MacLean said the new ownership plans to keep the Lightning administration in place, specifically naming General Manager Jay Feaster, coach John Tortorella, team president Ron Campbell and director of player personnel Bill Barber as people they would like to keep.

Does this mean we might have changes in the look of the team: the logo or uniforms?
New uniforms and a new logo were already in the works and will be unveiled Aug. 25. The logo will dispense with the word "Lightning," sharpen the look of the bolt and change the type style of the words "Tampa Bay." The colors are expected to be the same, but the uniform will be more form-fitting.

How about ticket prices? Can we expect changes there?
Nothing this season, but the Lightning always has complained its ticket prices were in the bottom half of the league.

Any changes/upgrades planned for the Forum?
Unrelated to the ownership change, there will be a new scoreboard with what is supposed to be one of the largest video displays in the league. The bottom ring of scrolling ads also has been replaced by an LED display that circles the arena.

Does the sale have an impact on NCAA events coming to the St. Pete Times Forum, beginning with men's basketball tournament games and the women's Final Four in 2008?
Sherrin said "nothing will change," regarding the future events planned for the Forum.

Tampa Bay Sports Commission executive director Rob Higgins hasn't spoken to the new owners yet, but said he "wouldn't anticipate it having any effect on the events already booked. ... We've heard through the management team that his group is very supportive of our upcoming events."

What about the naming rights deal the St. Petersburg Times has with Palace Sports? Is that part of the deal or could the building's name change?
The naming rights are transferable during an ownership change.

How many people work for Palace Sports in Tampa?
There are roughly 200 full-time employees (including Lightning players) and 1,000 part-time employees.

Will the sale affect the Arena Football League's Tampa Bay Storm?
The Storm has been for sale for more than a year. Palace Sports repeatedly said it was not interested in buying the team. It remains to be seen whether the new ownership might have interest.

So what happens to that vacant land around the Forum?
It's pegged for commercial development, but that's a broad category. The 5.5 acres could become anything: Stores, hotels, condos or offices.

The movie guy said he played some minor league hockey. Who did he play for, for how long and how long ago?
Oren Koules played for several teams in the Western Hockey League, and even played 18 games in 1982-83 for Hampton Roads of the ACHL. Who else played for Hampton Roads that year? Lightning coach John Tortorella, for one game, though he said he did not recall his new boss.

Bottom line, is this good news or bad for Tampa Bay Lightning fans?
Any time a team's ownership is stabilized, and the owners live in the community and live its passion for a team, it is potentially a good thing for the organization and its fans.

What happens next?
The transfer of the Lightning’s ownership from Palace Sports & Entertainment to Absolute Hockey is not official until approved by the NHL’s Board of Governors. The next meeting is in late September. The deal needs to be approved by three-quarters (23) of the league’s 30 teams.

NHL spokesman Frank Brown said it is possible the league’s “due diligence’’ may not be completed by then. The subsequent meeting is in December, though approval can be done in the interim without a meeting and by fax. In that case, a unanimous vote is needed. 

Compiled by Times staff writers Damian Cristodero, Joe Smith, James Thorner and Bill Varian.

 

FAST FACTS: The St. Pete Times Forum
The St. Pete Times Forum consistently is ranked among the busiest concert arenas in the world. It placed ninth on trade magazine Venues Today's list of top grossing facilities so far this year, with $15.4-million gross income on 225,145 tickets sold.