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Rhinocerous Times Masthead
October 9, 2003

Brown General Of The Generals

BY JAMES MOFFAT
STAFF WRITER

The people of Greensboro don't actually own a hockey team but the city does have an agreement to run the Greensboro Generals for this season. Coliseum Manager Matt Brown brokered the deal to keep hockey in the Coliseum and the big question is whether he can keep losses to a level that will be acceptable to the City Council. Odds are that he will be given a lot of leeway because the council didn't even feel the need to discuss publicly whether or not having Brown take over the hockey team was a good idea. The council approved the idea in an off-hand, informal kind of way, before there was ever a contract.

Brown and city officials have said the decision to take over the Greensboro Generals hockey team was made in order to save the city about $300,000 in revenue it would lose if the team stopped playing. Based on Coliseum figures and the new agreement signed by Brown to run the team, the Coliseum could lose that much this year running the Generals.

According to the agreement signed Sept. 29, the Generals Brigade, the limited liability company set up by Bill Black and Don Brady to operate the hockey team, has turned over all operations of the Greensboro Generals to the Coliseum. For operating the team, the Coliseum will receive all income generated by the hockey team, including ticket, league, merchandising and marketing revenue. The Generals Brigade will pay the Coliseum $200,000 for operating the team this season. In exchange, the city will assume all costs associated with running the team, including players' and coaches' salaries and marketing fees. Black and Brady leased the team from local attorney Art Donaldson, who is the owner of the-Generals.

The deal is simple. The entire agreement is two pages long plus a signature page. It appears that Black and Brady didn't think they could run the team for a year and lose less than $200,000. The agreement limits their losses to $200,000, but the chance of their seeing a profit is extremely slim.

Based on the Coliseum's figures from last year, the city took in about $195,500 in revenue from the Generals, which included a percentage of ticket sales and concession revenue, all parking fees and rent paid by the team. Under the new agreement, the Coliseum will take in all ticket sales and concession revenue.

The downside of this agreement is that last year the team's owners lost money and this year that loss will be the Coliseum's. The Coliseum will have to pick up the tab for all costs associated with the team, including players' salaries.

Each team in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) has a players' salary cap of $10,000 a week. That means over the 23-week ECHL season, the maximum amount a team can spend on players' salaries is $230,000; On top of that, the Coliseum will pay the coach's $56,000 salary and the salaries of other administrative personnel.

The city will not collect the $177,500 in rent the team paid for using the Coliseum. The rent money was used to pay for many of the ushers, ticket takers, security guards, Zamboni drivers and other day-of-the-game employees, which means those workers will now be paid by the Coliseum, not the Generals.

The Coliseum also has to cover other costs throughout the 36-game season, such as marketing the team and paying officials, team doctors, transportation, the public address announcer and other personnel paid by the team under the team's original contract with the city. Even Sarge, the Generals' mascot, is now on the city payroll. Sarge makes $25 for each appearance at games or team-sponsored events.

And these figures are based on the Generals drawing as many fans as last year, when the team had a winning season and went to the playoffs. A mediocre season would likely mean fewer fans, less revenue and more losses for a building that continues to lose about $1.5 million each year.

The new agreement states, "Should season ticket sales be increased to 2,000, this should provide a sufficient base for future operations." Last year, there were 651 Generals' season ticket holders. As of last Friday, only 439 season tickets had been purchased, even though prices were reduced by as much as 20 percent from the previous year.

Coliseum Business Manager Laura Smith said She expects ticket sales to increase this season and that the recent ECHL players' strike had a negative effect on preseason sales. She added that with season ticket sales down, the Coliseum would work toward single game ticket sales and promotions to get people out to games.

"We think we can increase ticket sales," Smith said. "Obviously, that base needs to grow."

Even if the ticket sales don't increase, the Coliseum expects attendance to grow. According to the Coliseum's figures, the team gave away an average of 1,700 tickets for each Generals game last year. Smith said many tickets were given away as promotions, and many were given to companies in exchange for services and advertising - trades that will continue into this season. Smith said the bulk of the Coliseum's revenue would come from purchases made once fans arrive at the Coliseum. She said the money spent on concessions, parking and merchandise is where the city would "reap the rewards."

"There're a lot of things that impact revenue other than the price on the tickets," Smith said. "We wouldn't go into this saying we can maintain what they got last year."

Brown said the Coliseum is trying to boost paid attendance with some new promotions and lower ticket prices. One new promotion the Coliseum will try out for-the Generals' opening night Friday, Oct. 17 will be to give free parking to fans that have purchased tickets in advance. If the promotion works, Brown said the Coliseum would do it again.

"We're trying to get people to come out early. We think that could be significant," Brown said.

Another way Brown and the Coliseum staff are trying to get people to attend games is by reducing the price of tickets. Season tickets have been reduced by as much as 20 percent, and single game tickets have also been reduced. Single game tickets will range from $5 for students and senior citizens to $15 for adult on-ice seats.

Other promotions under consideration include nights when the team wears its original green jerseys and fans can buy them after the game; nights when former players would be honored; more youth programs and Pee-Wee hockey games during intermissions; and the traditional Thirsty Thursdays.

Brown said he hopes more fans will attend games now that city tax dollars are being used to pay for the team.

"I may be naive, but I think people will support us more. I believe that. I hope to hell it's true," Brown said. "I believe in my heart of hearts the community will come out and support us."

Added Brown, "We have no motive other than keeping hockey."

Black and his associates still have a slim chance to make some money from the Generals this season. According to the agreement, if the actual paid attendance figures average more than 4,000 fans a game, Black and associates would receive 10 percent of the revenue generated from those ticket sales. If the per game paid attendance averages 5,000 fans, they would receive 20 percent of ticket revenues.

The key is paid attendance. According to last year's Coliseum figures, only about 1,550 fans per game paid for their tickets.