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Greensboro considered for Major League Hockey


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Hockey league courts Greensboro


By Larry Keech Staff Writer

News & Record

GREENSBORO -- There is a chance that a pro hockey team will be playing home games at the Greensboro Coliseum in 2004-05 after all.

The fledgling World Hockey Association is considering Greensboro and Orlando, Fla., as prospective locations for a league-owned "founders' franchise" as part of an eight-team alignment.

"Greensboro and Orlando are the candidates for the eighth franchise, and we're planning to make a decision by the end of the week," WHA co-founder Allan Howell said Monday.

The WHA will play a 72-game schedule that will begin around Nov. 1 and continue through April 2005. Its current list of seven franchises is: Dallas; Detroit; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Hamilton, Ontario, Jacksonville, Fla.; Quebec City; and Toronto.

The league is a revival of the WHA that competed with the NHL during the 1970s, and its commissioner is former WHA and NHL star Bobby Hull. Its organizers are hoping to take advantage of the NHL's current labor problems to stock its teams with veteran players from the NHL and American Hockey League, along with rookies.

"We firmly believe that the NHL is facing a lockout that could last as long as 16 months and blow two seasons," Howell said. "Its whole economic model will have to be changed."

If Greensboro succeeds in securing a WHA franchise, local fans have reason to anticipate a higher competitive level of hockey than they saw in the ECHL from 1999 through 2004. The city lost its ECHL franchise after the 2003-04 season, when it was unable to secure a viable ownership arrangement for the Greensboro Generals.

Matt Brown, the Greensboro Coliseum's managing director, has continued to seek a hockey team as a primary tenant for the arena. Brown cited a few key advantages in his quest for the available WHA franchise.

"There isn't a more attractive building in the league," Brown said of the building that played host to the Carolina Hurricanes from 1997-99. "It's an NHL-caliber facility. And if the NHL is unable to overcome its labor issues, there will be a lot of hockey fans in the immediate area stretching from Raleigh through Greensboro to Roanoke, Va., with no team to support."

When reached at the WHA office in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Howell pointed out that the WHA has set up an economic model that is expected to cut ownership expenses and ticket prices by almost half.

"NHL operating budgets range from $30 million to $80 million," he said. "In the WHA, there will be a $10 million salary cap for players, and teams will be limited to one marquee player with no more than a $5 million salary.

"Tickets for WHA games will run in the $20-30 range and will be family-affordable."

Howell expressed a couple of concerns about Greensboro's viability as a WHA market.

"Is the market big enough?" he said. "From a distance, it's right on the edge in its ability to support a team in this league. Will enough fans drive from Winston-Salem, High Point, Raleigh and Roanoke to see the games?

"If we could locate some local ownership involvement, that would help put it over the top, but it hasn't surfaced yet. Orlando is a much larger market, but there have been some legal problems with ownership that could be resolved or worsen by the end of the week. So it's a difficult call right now."

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