2003 - 2004
April 9, 2004
(The News & Record Editorial Board)
The puck stops here
The city should not renew its arrangement to operate the Greensboro Generals. The privately owned team should be able to fend for itself.
There have been slap shots amid the magnolias, off and on, for more than four decades now.
Born in 1959, the original Greensboro Generals skated, scored and brawled in the original Greensboro Coliseum. Along the way they built a loyal following and etched a lasting mark on the city's sports landscape.
Though they never were quite the toast of the town, they'd occasionally pack the big barn on Lee Street with Southern-fried fans for whom the game was a rude and rowdy good time.
But entertainment options have changed, and the local public's appetite for minor-league hockey is fading. Entering this season, the most recent edition of the Generals had lost money four years in a row. A drive to raise $200,000 to cover revenue shortfalls has itself fallen short. Season-ticket sales have been meager, attendance mediocre at best.
So the team is back where it was before the current season; it will dissolve unless someone steps forward to rescue it.
This season that someone was, in effect, all of Greensboro. The team became a ward of the city, which ran the franchise's day-to-day operations, paid its staff and covered its expenses.
This was a bad idea then and it is a bad idea now. Government has no business subsidizing a private sports franchise.
But at least some city officials seem open to doing it again. "We're prepared to do whatever is necessary to keep and maintain hockey," coliseum Managing Director Mart Brown said this week. To his credit, Brown has managed the team well. But even Spartan cost-cutting hasn't guaranteed financial success (Brown predicts the team will come at least to within $50,000 of breaking even this year).
The arguments for the city operating the team are now familiar: The Generals fill 36 dates in the coliseum for home games and generate parking, advertising and concessions revenue.
However, the concept of investing public dollars in a private business sets a bad precedent and risks a loss that ultimately city taxpayers could bear.
Noting that this season's city takeover of the Generals was "a good experiment," City Manager Ed Kitchen says he will make a recommendation to the City Council on the future of the city's partnership with the Generals in May. He said he will base that recommendation on such factors as the "ancillary revenue" the team might bring to the rest of the coliseum operation and the potential consequences of operating the arena without an anchor tenant.
But he quickly added: "I'm not interested as a city manager in having this as a permanent arrangement because the community is not comfortable with it."
Kitchen is right; many taxpayers consider the idea of city employees running a private business patently inappropriate. Better that the coliseum invest its energy in exploring more promising long-term alternatives to fill the void the Generals might leave.
Let the market decide who plays hockey in this town. And let the market decide if that team succeeds - on 'its own, not on the city taxpayers' dime.