A company that spurned overtures from the Phoenix Coyotes is negotiating to invest in another financially shaky NHL team: the Florida Panthers.
Sports Properties Acquisition Corp., controlled by New York financier Andrew Murstein and high-profile former U.S. politicians Mario Cuomo and Jack Kemp, is talking to the team's chairman and general partner Alan Cohen about merging with the Panthers' parent company (Sunrise Sports & Entertainment), according to sources quoted by the Sports Business Daily.
NHL sources told The Globe and Mail that Murstein, who once tried to buy the Anaheim Ducks, has been making inquiries about the Panthers for several weeks. The Sports Properties vice-chairman was trying to ascertain if the team, which has not made the NHL playoffs for nine years and narrowly missed them this year, was on the rise.
"Murstein is a quality guy who would make a great owner," one source said.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly declined to comment yesterday and referred inquiries to the Panthers.
Panthers officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Murstein could not be reached for comment. He told the Sports Business Daily he could not comment because U.S. stock regulations prevent him from discussing deals that have not been completed.
The prize in the potential deal is the BankAtlantic Center lease, as the Panthers currently get most of the arena's revenue, plus a real-estate development planned for the 56-hectare plot of land around the building.
The Panthers and their other assets are said to be valued at $230-million (U.S.) by Sports Properties.
Cohen and his partners would receive Sports Properties stock in exchange for placing those assets under the umbrella of the public company. NHL rules do not bar public companies from owning a majority share in its teams.
Sports Properties is an investment fund created for the purpose of buying sports properties by selling shares. It raised $216-million in its initial public offering, and originally stated its purpose was to buy one franchise for between $250-million and $1-billion. The fund tried and failed to buy baseball's Chicago Cubs.
Under U.S. securities laws, the fund has two years from its formation to buy a franchise or the money must be returned to the shareholders (Jan. 17, 2010, is the deadline).
Given the difficulty in borrowing large amounts of money in today's economy, it is unlikely Sports Properties could handle a transaction as high as $1-billion. But its $216-million in cash would be attractive to someone looking for the money to get a real-estate project off the ground.
The attraction to the Panthers for Sports Properties is that the BankAtlantic Center, which is owned by Broward County, was the second-highest grossing concert venue in Florida in 2008, and No. 8 in the U.S., according to Pollstar, an industry publication. BankAtlantic Center pulled in $21.9-million in bookings aside from Panthers games in 2008.
What is interesting is that the No. 1 venue in Florida was the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, which pulled in $31.8-million in 2008. That was second in the U.S. only to New York's Madison Square Garden.
Since the Tampa Bay Lightning also controls much of the revenue at the St. Pete Times Forum, it may explain why the team's owners consistently deny rumours they are in financial difficulty.