2003 - 2004
June 8, 2004
Amateur hour looms in future of the coliseum
Rob Daniels (Photo Credit - The News & Record)
It's getting late in Matt Brown's quest to find new ownership and new life for the Greensboro Generals. There's less than a minute left in the third period, and the goalie has been pulled.
If the hockey team's attendance - 21st in the 31-team ECHL - is any great indicator, the sports fans of this town won't be heart broken if the franchise follows the Greensboro Prowlers in the ever-expanding filing cabinet of local sports history.
But if they're not disconsolate, they should at least be embarrassed. For if the Generals fade away and are not replaced, the Greensboro Coliseum will be the largest municipal arena in the country without a professional team tenant. It will be this city's answer to Houston's Astrodome, which is left standing only because of its historical value and the need some people feel to attend monster-truck shows.
We're accustomed to lacking pro basketball. When the ABA's Cougars left, they had the decency to go to a big-league city, St. Louis.
But lacking indoor football and now perhaps hockey is another matter - particularly in a place that allegedly chafes at the prominence of the Triangle and Charlotte and asks why it can't get in on the action.
At least the new ballpark is under construction. Otherwise, you could kiss off baseball, too.
Thankfully, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., has a leaky roof and only one decent access road from Tampa. The Baltimore Ravens' stadium was built without a dome. Otherwise, the Gate City might fall out of the ACC Tournament rotation.
The list of big venues with no anchor tenant is short. Right now, it starts and ends with the Qwest Arena in Omaha, Neb., which seats 15,500 for most things and which opened less than a year ago. Its most frequent occupants are the Creighton men's basketball team and the Nebraska-Omaha hockey team, which combine for the 36 or so dates most venues require.
As to the pros? The folks at Qwest aren't worried. The city has an indoor football team, the Omaha Beef. And where's the Beef, you ask? At the Omaha Civic Auditorium. The nearest pro hockey is in Lincoln, 57 miles away.
"The reality is we don't need 'em," said Roger Dixon, president and chief executive officer at Qwest. "Ownership tends to be - if I can be diplomatic here - a little fluid."
Dixon doesn't need 'em because his facility is doing relatively well. He says it's close to breaking even in its first year.
The Greensboro Coliseum, on the other hand, needs anybody it can get. The city says the facility will lose $1.8 million in this fiscal year. And that's a year with the ACC Tournament.
Brown, who runs the coliseum, has done nearly everything conceivable to keep the team. He even got the city to hold the franchise's hand for a year while new ownership was sought.
Understandably, the City Council is eager to get out of the hockey business.
So it's up to the people now. At an average of 3,269 fans a game, a figure beaten by the franchise in Biloxi, Miss., Greensboro doesn't seem to care about its hockey team. But if you think it's demeaning to be stuck with a minor-league franchise, imagine what it's like to get dumped by a minor-league franchise.
Here are some of the meccas of American civilization that will have what Greensboro won't: Shreveport, La., home of the Shreveport-Bossier Mudbugs; Amarillo, Texas, where the Amarillo Gorillas call home; and Wheeling, W.Va., home base of the Nailers. In Omaha, the Beef has a fan club. It is known as the Meat Heads.
Contact Rob Daniels at 373-7028 or firstname.lastname@example.org