For the first time, Takashi Okubo, the mysterious owner of the Lightning who never has been to Tampa Bay or seen an NHL game in person, responded to media questions about the team, its financial state and the sale, which has been ongoing for the past two years.
Okubo is chairman of the board for 20 companies in Japan, including Kokusai Green, a company that specializes in the management and operation of golf courses and resort facilities in Japan and that owns the Lightning.
Throughout the six-year history of the Lightning, media requests to interview Okubo in person never came to fruition. Okubo never met NHL commissioner Gary Bettman until two weeks ago.
On March 25, though, the Times, which again asked for permission to meet Okubo face-to-face, submitted a list of questions to Lightning lawyer Stephen D. Wayne, who forwarded the questions to Okubo in Japan. On Wednesday, the Lightning released the written answers to those questions.
Okubo did not go into great detail on most answers, and there was no response to one question asking his reaction to recent published articles about the Lightning in Forbes magazine, Sports Illustrated and the New York Times.
Though most questions were repeated verbatim in Okubo's return letter to the Times, a few questions were slightly altered. What follows is the word-for-word account of Okubo's response to the Times.
Q : What is the current financial state of the Lightning?
A: The Lightning is losing money, but I'll continue to support the team until it is sold.
Q : Recently, the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League included the debt of the franchise in the selling price. Would you be willing to include the debt in the sale and, thus, take a lower price for the team?
A: As far as the structure of the sale is concerned, that discussion would be based on the type of deal offered.
Q : What else would the asking price include? Anything other than the team and the lease on the Ice Palace?
A: Up until now, our discussions have concentrated on the team, the rights in the arena, six acres of property and retail space located in the parking garage.
Q : Is there a timetable for selling the team? How much more money are you willing to invest in this franchise? Could you foresee still owning this team in one year? Five years? Ten years? Would there come a time when you would stop putting money into the team if it couldn't be sold in the near future?
A: I will continue to financially support the Lightning for as long as it takes to agree to a deal with a qualified buyer.
Q : Several suitors seemed close to purchasing the team in the past two years, including the Maloof family of New Mexico. Can you give us any indication why those potential buyers declined to buy the franchise?
A: I feel it would be inappropriate to comment on these matters. What I can say is that interest in the team is high and I can assure you everyone concerned wants a resolution as soon as possible.
Q : Considering you have never been to a Lightning game and do not appear to be a hockey fan, how do you feel about this team as an investment?
A: Regrettably, the team is losing money. It was not my intention when I helped bring hockey to Tampa that I would lose money. I would be happier with this investment if it were profitable.
Q : Considering you have invested so much of your money into a professional hockey team, why have you never been to Tampa or to a Lightning game?
A: In Japan owners appoint managers to supervise their holdings. I understand that is not the case in America. It is a difference in cultures.
Q : Are you satisfied with the job done by (team president) Steve Oto? What are your opinions on (former governor) David Lefevre's role with the team?
A: Steve Oto is doing a difficult job under difficult circumstances. I have faith in Mr. Oto, and believe his job will be easier when the Lightning start winning. As far as Mr. Lefevre is concerned, without him, there would be no National Hockey League team in Tampa.
Q : How close are you to the day-to-day activities of the Lightning? How often are you updated on its progress both on and off the ice?
A: As I said previously, the management team of Kokusai Green is overseeing the Lightning. I am updated as to the play of the team and its financials every month.