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Tampa Bay Lightning finances may be near key juncture

The next shoe to drop in the Lightning's ownership saga might be around the corner, and it could provide some urgency in the search for a new majority shareholder.

Operationally, the team has been stable this season, with co-owner Oren Koules and general manager Brian Lawton running things, and co-owner Len Barrie, as per commissioner Gary Bettman, involved only in transactions worth more than $2 million.

The question is what happens when the $15 million the organization received in league revenue sharing runs out and it has to start paying more of its bills on its own?

Though the team has made progress bringing in new corporate sponsors — it announced last week a deal with FrankCrum, a Clearwater human resources firm — ticket sales, the life blood of NHL franchises, have lagged. An announced average attendance of 14,605 is 25th in the league among 30 teams and 1,892 below last season. Prices, too, were greatly reduced.

Wouldn't a prospective owner wait for a financial crunch to use as leverage to cut the best deal?

Not that people are lining up to buy the team. St. Louis real estate developer Anthony Sansone Jr. has said he still is interested. The owners of the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts, long thought in the market for a franchise, probably were encouraged by the league to take a look at the Lightning, though there is no indication anything came of that.

Bettman also said, though "theoretically" possible, he did not envision the team returning to former owner Palace Sports & Entertainment, the majority debt holder on OK Hockey's $200 million purchase.

The most interesting aspect of Bettman's update last week is there doesn't seem to be a rush to get the situation resolved, and with his confirmation that the exclusive buyout windows given Koules and Barrie are moot, things seem open ended, for now. He did throw fans a bone, though.

"You have some pretty good players on this team," Bettman said. "This team is going to be fine."

Tampa Bay Lightning finances may be near key juncture 11/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 21, 2009 8:28pm]
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