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Lightning sold once again
Oren Koules has a purchase agreement. Now he must resecure financing by May 29.
By Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writer
Published February 14, 2008
PHILADELPHIA - Tom Wilson was excited but also cautious.
The CEO of Lightning owner Palace Sports & Entertainment announced Wednesday that Hollywood producer Oren Koules signed a purchase agreement to buy the team, the St. Pete Times Forum lease and 5 1/2 acres near the arena for $200-million.
Wilson spoke of the "passion" Koules will bring as an owner. And certainly unloading a Tampa operation Wilson said has lost about $80-million since it was purchased in June 1999 is good for Palace Sports' bottom line.
But Wilson has been here before, on Aug. 7, when Absolute Hockey Enterprises, of which Koules was part, signed a similar purchase agreement. Three months later, the group imploded as Palace Sports nullified the deal and Koules was sued by two of his partners.
So when offered congratulations Wednesday, Wilson said evenly, "Well, it's another step."
Big ones remain.
Koules, 47, responsible for the gruesome Saw movies, still must secure his financing, and the NHL's Board of Governors must approve the transfer of ownership. The purchase agreement gives Koules 105 days, to May 29, to get things done or Palace Sports can revisit the agreement.
Wilson said until the deal closes, Palace Sports has final say on personnel decisions, important as the Feb. 26 trade deadline approaches.
"The way it works is Oren has a voice," Wilson said by phone from his Auburn Hills, Mich., office. "So if we wanted to sign a player or trade a player, Oren has input. But the final decision stays with us."
Koules, as he has throughout the process, was unavailable for comment. But the head of OK Hockey, which includes business partner Mark Burg and, presumably, California banker Russell Belinsky as well as some unnamed others, said in a release:
"We are happy that we are able to take the next significant step towards ownership of the Lightning. We are very excited about Wednesday's announcement and look forward to the day when we can make a difference for the Lightning and its fans."
The announcement came quickly after France's Societe Generale bank closed its U.S. sports lending business and Koules lost what Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Journal reported was up to $110-million in financing. It was recently disclosed the bank lost $7.2-billion through unauthorized trades.
Even Lightning president Ron Campbell said there were times when, "You sat back and said because of the (Societe Generale) disruption, 'Jesus, was this thing meant not to happen?' But Oren has been very resilient."
Wilson said he believes Koules spoke to three banks about sharing the financing but does not know the final details.
"And he doesn't have to tell us," Wilson said. "We know he has enough in here to finance the deal, typically. ... There were more dollars exchanged to (reduce the loan), and I don't think he takes that step without some degree of certainty this is going to work."
Palace Sports also helped with a loan Wilson said "will allow (Koules) a little flexibility."
"We have a small interest left in the purchase, not significant, and it disappears quickly," Wilson said, adding it's less than the $30-million Palace Sports was to loan Absolute Hockey to help its bid.
The deal seems a good one for Palace Sports, which bought the team for about $100-million and seems able to recover its losses.
For Koules (who played 179 junior games and one in the now-defunct International Hockey League) it is light years from August, when he, Coral Springs developer Jeff Sherrin and former NHL executive Doug MacLean sat in the Times Forum as prospective buyers.
Palace Sports nullified that deal when the group missed a $5-million payment, and Sherrin and MacLean sued Koules for $50-million for fraud. Commissioner Gary Bettman brokered a settlement, and Koules started OK Hockey.
Injuries: Tampa Bay - Centers Ryan Craig (knee) and Andreas Karlsson (personal reasons) and defenseman Brad Lukowich (abdomen/groin) are out. Philadelphia - Defenseman Braydon Coburn (ruptured artery in buttock) and wings Simon Gagne (concussion) and Scottie Upshall (ankle) are out.
Key stats: The third of four meetings, the Lightning is 1-1. ... Tampa Bay is 8-14 with seven ties in Philadelphia but has won seven straight there. ... The Flyers, 11-3-2 against the Southeast,entered Wednesday with the league's second-best power play at 24.5 percent. ... Tampa Bay is on a 6-0-1 road streak while Philadelphia has lost four straight overall.