New name enters rink

Gung-ho Tampa attorney Steve Burton joins group attempting to buy Lightning.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
Published September 23, 2007

TAMPA - Steve Burton, the newest member of the group trying to buy the Lightning, apparently isn't one to stand on ceremony.

The Tampa attorney is so pumped about the possibility of owning a piece of the team, he said no job is off-limits.

"I'll help them with anything," Burton said. "If they say ThunderBug called in sick, I'll put on the uniform; whatever it takes."

Burton joins former Blue Jackets president Doug MacLean, Coral Springs real estate developer Jeff Sherrin and Hollywood producers Oren Koules and Mark Burg who, as Absolute Hockey Enterprises, have a $200-million purchase agreement to buy the team, the St. Pete Times Forum lease and 5 1/2 adjacent acres from Palace Sports & Entertainment.

It was unclear if Burton is a general or limited partner.

"It's exciting," said Burton, 46, a managing partner at the law firm of Broad and Cassel. "I've been a big fan of the Lightning, and with the Lightning being a treasure it is for our city, it's a thrill."

The announcement of Burton's inclusion Saturday night at the Times Forum provided a needed public relations boost for the group, which MacLean admitted has started taking heat for not revealing all its investors. That has led to speculation, unfounded MacLean insisted, that the deal is in trouble.

He admitted two potential investors decided not to get involved.

"We've had a couple back off," he said. "We've had some bumps, but every transaction has bumps, and that was expected."

He said the deal is "moving better than ever."

That Burton, a Tampa native, is a graduate of Chamberlain High, Stetson's law school and the University of South Florida, where he met Susan, his wife of 24 years, also is a great hook.

As MacLean said: "It's all about local connections. I just think that's important on the whole business side of things when you're trying to sell tickets and suites."

Burton said it wasn't difficult to sell him on joining. He said he is good friends with Sherrin, who has had ties to Broad and Cassel for more than 20 years.

Burton said he could not recall how the subject of his inclusion came about, but when it did, he decided in "a millisecond."

Not that it was done in a vacuum.

"I put everything on hold until I confirmed with my wife, and she signed on, too, which was also a millisecond," said Burton, whose family also includes sons Tyler, 14, and Zach, 9.

MacLean said there could be more investors.

It has been 47 days since Absolute Hockey announced its intention to buy the team. At the time it was said the entire investment group would be named in seven to 10 days. That it hasn't happened is something to keep an eye on, said John Concannon, a partner at Bingham Sports Consulting in Boston.

"If they said they were going to do something and didn't do it, there has to be a reason," said Concannon, who represented a client trying to buy the St. Louis Blues.

MacLean countered: "It's not my fault people don't want their names announced. Their reasons are valid, and I can't do anything about it."

As for the still-evolving group, Concannon said, "If they've got the cash to do the deal and can finance it without any problems, it's not really a red flag."

MacLean said Absolute Hockey has the capital to close, meaning at least $100-million is available as NHL rules stipulate there be no more than 50 percent debt.

He said bringing on more investors is a way to lessen debt.

"This is definitely a long-term commitment for them, and that's very encouraging for me," Burton said. "I've been here all my life. I've got family that's buried here. I'll be buried here. I don't want to be associated with someone who doesn't take this so seriously as they do."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com