2003 - 2004
July 21, 2004
League disbands city hockey team
The loss of the Generals leaves the coliseum with no permanent tenant and 36 open dates.
BY LARRY KEECH
GREENSBORO - The city lost its pro hockey team Tuesday in a vote of the East Coast Hockey League's board of governors because new franchise ownership couldn't be secured.
"The board voted to terminate the Greensboro Generals membership in the league," ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna announced. "The current owner was unable to move forward, and a bona fide ownership group could not be found to put together a viable plan to support the team in the 2004-05 season."
Matt Brown, managing director of the Greensboro Coliseum, headed the effort to save the Genera1s for more than a year since local attorney Art Donaldson declared that he could no longer shoulder the financial responsibility that his ownership had imposed since he established the team in 1999.
"I'm exhausted, disappointed, frustrated," Brown said Tuesday after his efforts to attract viable ownership for the team failed to meet the ECHL deadline.
Brown was at a loss to elaborate on how he plans to fill a vacancy of 36 dates that the Generals' departure leaves in the coliseum next year.
"I'm in a bit of cold shock that there won't be hockey in the building for the first time since the 1980s, which was before I arrived here," Brown said.
With Brown managing the team, the city of Greensboro agreed to assume financial responsibility for one year, encompassing the 2003-04 season. But when the city ended its one-year commitment after absorbing a loss of at least $59,187, Brown was forced to find an ownership replacement for Donaldson and the city.
"Over the past several weeks, we had entered into serious negotiations with three potential ownership groups - a group of local area businessmen, an NHL franchise and a group of out-of-town businessmen," Brown said.
In the end, the local group provided Brown's last, best hope for new ownership. A third party made a significant offer to join Greensboro businessmen Bill Black and Don Brady in their year long efforts to assemble an ownership group. Brown wouldn't identify any prospective new owners. Black and Brady, however, were reluctant to proceed because they had been targeted in a pending lawsuit by former coach Jeff Brubaker.
Black and Brady led a group of local businessmen that legally held the franchise rights and pledged to contribute $200,000 to the team's expenses. Brown said he asked the businessmen when they would produce the money but has yet to receive a response.
The loss of the Generals means the Greensboro Coliseum becomes the largest municipal arena in the country without a permanent tenant. The first hockey team to play at the original coliseum when it opened in 1959 was the Generals entry in the now-defunct Eastern Hockey League. Hockey teams have played there in 33 of the 45 seasons since then, with the only hiatus taking place from 1977 through 1989.
Greensboro could have considered joining the Southern Professional Hockey League, a smaller, less ambitious league than the 30-team ECHL that is managed by former Greensboro Monarchs owner Bill Coffey.
"I wouldn't think there would be much interest in that level of hockey," Brown said of the Southern League. "I'm not sure our fan base would accept and support a level below that of the ECHL."
Brown mentioned a few other indoor pro sports as possible substitutes for the Generals.
"I'm trying to find another arena football team because I believe in the sport," he said, having hosted the Greensboro Prowlers of arenafootball2 before Donaldson folded the team last year. "The operating cost for indoor soccer is too high, and lacrosse passed us by. I've been encouraging the Greensboro Sports Commission and the convention and visitors bureau to bid for one-time events like roller hockey tournaments and American Bowling Congress that would fill a lot of beds."
The loss of the Generals also means that two-year coach Rick Adduono and a core group of players must look elsewhere for jobs.
"I hate it for the team and mostly for Rick Adduono," said Cindy Kabler, a longtime Generals fan and member of the team's booster club. "He's an outstanding coach who's turned down several other jobs because he likes it here. He was afraid staying here might come back to bite him, and now he's going to have to move."
Adduono did not return calls Tuesday.
The ECHL announced that the Generals' players who have received a qualifying offer or have executed a standard player contract will immediately become unrestricted free agents.
McKenna and Brown made it a point to show support for Donaldson, who still owes the ECHL a $1.2 million franchise fee. McKenna said the ECHL owners who form the league's board of governors understand the situation.
"Art put in a lot of time and lost a lot of money," McKenna said. "We're his largest creditor, but we just have to get in line. We learned a lesson there (about extending credit to a prospective owner)."
The coliseum announced that Generals season-ticket holders will be contacted to begin returning ticket deposits.
The ECHL, which also revoked the Roanoke franchise Tuesday, has begun work on a revised playing schedule for 2004-05 with plans to release it no later than July 30.
Contact Larry Keech at 373-7080 or firstname.lastname@example.org