Wings Senators Ready To Sell AHL Franchises

May 20, 2002
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The American Hockey League Board of Governors gave conditional approval to the sales of two inactive AHL franchises last week, and both business deals have a link to the Grand Rapids Griffins.

AHL owners gave the Detroit Red Wings the green light last week to sell its dormant franchise to a group that will locate the club in San Antonio, Texas. At the same time, they handed the Ottawa Senators a pass to sell its inactive franchise to a partnership that will place the team in Binghamton, N.Y. The past owners of the Binghamton Rangers, a former AHL franchise that was sold and moved to Hartford, Conn. in 1997, head that group.

The Griffins are the new primary affiliate of the Red Wings, as both clubs entered into a five-year player affiliation agreement in January. The local franchise had been affiliated with the Senators for the past three seasons.

The Red Wings owned and operated its AHL affiliate in Glens Falls, N.Y., for 19 years, only to shut down that franchise three seasons ago when they reportedly lost $1.9 million. Since then Detroit has been sharing an AHL franchise in Cincinnati with Anaheim, after an effort to locate its affiliate in a Toledo suburb failed when the financing for a new arena fell through.

“If somebody out there was interested in purchasing it, we’d certainly be willing to listen,” Red Wings GM Ken Holland told the Business Journal in January.

The San Antonio group supposedly buying the franchise is a partnership between owners of the San Antonio Spurs, a National Basketball Association team, and the Florida Panthers, a National Hockey League club. San Antonio will become the Panthers’ primary affiliate. The partners approached the Red Wings about selling its inactive franchise on Friday, May 3, and on May 6 the AHL provisionally approved the transaction.

“We have not had a chance to get that documentation provided due to the relatively short notice that took place. It’ll probably take us a few days to complete the Detroit-San Antonio sale, but I don’t anticipate any great difficulty,” AHL President David Andrews told the San Antonio Express-News on May 4.

The league gave both groups until May 31 to fill in the blanks of the deal, which weren’t disclosed by Andrews. A sale price wasn’t revealed either. A Business Journal call to the Red Wings front office to confirm the sale was not returned by press time.

The San Antonio franchise will play next season in the new SBC Center, which will seat 13,000 for hockey. The city has a Central Hockey League franchise that plays in the 9,021-seat Freeman Coliseum. Whether the CHL club will stay there isn’t certain. San Antonio had an International Hockey League team that folded after the 1997-98 season.

Ottawa reportedly sold its AHL franchise for $2.5 million to a group of four partners led by former Binghamton Rangers owners Tom Mitchell and Bob Carr. Both parties also need to provide details of the deal to the AHL by May 31.

“It’s nothing we’re concerned about. These owners have certainly met our approval. We fully expect Binghamton to be part of our league next season,” said Andrews to the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin last Tuesday.

When formal approval is granted, it’s expected that the Senators will move its affiliation to Binghamton, which will play in the 4,680-seat Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena — the smallest arena in the AHL. But Ottawa wasn’t ready to verify that move last week.

“Nothing is completed at the moment. If we make an announcement, it will be done in Binghamton, or in the city we end up going to,” Senators Vice President of Communications Phil Legault told the Business Journal last week.

Binghamton has a United Hockey League franchise, and that club is expected to move to another city. Its owner received conditional approval from the league in February to buy the Senators franchise, but David Wright couldn’t get enough financing to close on the sale.

“We will not be in Binghamton if there is not local ownership,” said Senators majority owner Roy Mlakar, who also temporarily called off a sale of his NHL club to local investors last month.

But a local businessman is part of the new Binghamton group. The Ottawa AHL club was located in Prince Edward Island and has been inactive for the last seven years.

Dan and Pamella DeVos and David Van Andel own the Griffins. DP Fox Sports and Entertainment LLC operates the franchise, which will begin its second AHL season and its seventh year in the city in October.           

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