from Sports Business News.com
Hockey in Cleveland: The National Hockey League has talked about putting a
team in Cleveland from time to time. Before the NHL gets too excited, they
would be well advised to take a look at the apparent failure of minor league
hockey in what is a good sports town. They'd also do well to remember the
NHL has failed in Cleveland once already. The Oakland Seals moved to
Cleveland and the Barons were part of the NHL for two seasons, 1976-77 and
The International Hockey League according to the Cleveland Plain
Dealer has asked a Cuyahoga County judge to prevent Cleveland Lumberjacks
owner Hank Kassigkeit from closing the financially troubled franchise.
Kassigkeit would not say that closing the franchise was imminent. But he
admitted he needed substantial financial assistance "to get through the
IHL officials filed a complaint in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas
seeking a temporary restraining order against Kassigkeit. Attorneys for the
IHL and Kassigkeit met with Judge Timothy McGinty. Another hearing will be
held today and a mediator could become involved to settle the dispute.
"The league took these steps to protect the interests of the league,
its member teams and the fans of Cleveland," said IHL President Doug Moss
from his Detroit home. "We would love to see a resolution to this as soon as
possible. All we want is for the Lumberjacks to continue to play."
Last Friday, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported in Wednesday's
edition Kassigkeit sent a letter to Doug Risebrough, general manager of the
Lumberjacks' NHL parent club, the Minnesota Wild, and to Cavs/Gund Arena
officials stating that he could not keep the franchise running unless the
Wild and the arena assumed some of the operational costs. Kassigkeit asked
the Wild to absorb $740,000 in player salaries and for the arena to suspend
$260,000 in remaining rent for the season.
The final sentence of the letter stated: "I hope this proposal will
meet with the approval of you and your Board of Directors. Unfortunately due
to the level of daily losses, we can only keep this offer through close of
business, January 31, 2001."
The IHL then sued for breach of contract, based on a Sept.27 letter
that Kassigkeit wrote assuring the league he had the financial means to
operate the franchise at least through the season. According to the lawsuit,
that letter was critical to the league approving Kassigkeit and his
ownership group, Cleveland Pro Hockey, Inc.
Kassigkeit, a native Clevelander who purchased the debt-ridden
franchise from Larry Gordon for $1.8 million, received the keys to the
Lumberjacks' offices in Gund Arena on Oct.4.
Kassigkeit told the Plain Dealer that the cost of operating the team
became too great. Initially, he told the league he was prepared to budget
about $265,000 for operating expenses, but the league suggested he boost
that figure to about $500,000.
Sources close to the situation said there is a good chance the league or the
Wild will operate the team for the remainder of the season. Gordon moved the
Lumberjacks from Muskegon, Mich., in 1992, and the team has played in Gund
Arena since the 1994-95 season.
"Our hope would be that the Lumberjacks would finish out the year in
Gund Arena," said Jim Boland, president and CEO of Cavs/Gund Arena. "We
would be willing to work with Hank or anyone else to see that that happens.
We want hockey in Cleveland for all of the great hockey fans, but we are not
interested in owning or managing a team."
Including Cleveland, the league has 10 franchises. The league had 19
teams as recently as the 1996-97 season.