New minor league hockey team to move into Miami Arena
By Paola Iuspa
A minor league ice hockey team will make its home at the Miami Arena, where it plans to play up to 40 games a year.
The Atlantic Coast Hockey League last month awarded David Waronker the franchise to expand into South Florida with his new team, to be called the Miami Manatees.
On Tuesday, Mr. Waronker and the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority, an extension of the City of Miami in charge of running the arena and promoting community events, signed a one-year lease with a two-year renewal option, said Ferey Kian, authority finance director.
This deal marks the return of hockey to the 15-year-old arena, which hosted the National Hockey League's Florida Panthers from 1993 to 1998, when the Panthers relocated to the National Car Rental Center in Sunrise.
The Miami Manatees' office is to open by mid-March at the arena and tickets to go on sale in April. Mr. Waronker said he will hire about 30 full-timers and 10 part-timers to run the Miami operation, as the team will practice and train at the 15,000-seat venue.
Team officials plan to hold playoffs at Miami Arena, which already has hockey equipment and a floor designed for an ice rink, he said.
"In a best-case scenario," he said, "the team would play 40 games. In a worst-case scenario, it would play 31."
Residents of Celebration, in Central Florida, Mr. Waronker and his wife Ruth currently own the Orlando Seals, the Jacksonville Barracudas and the Macon Trax of Georgia, said Jim Riggs, the first-year league's commissioner, who oversees the day-to-day details of the league. Based in Ocean Isle Beach, NC, the league has six franchises across Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.
The season will go from Oct. 15 to April 15 and tickets will range from $8 to $45. The owner projects at least 3,500 hockey fans will attend each game.
For the franchise to cover operating expenses, it would have to sell at least 4,500 tickets at $10 each. For the sports authority to make $140,000 in profits, the team would need to sell at least 2,000 tickets, Mr. Kian said. Besides charging the team $5,000 per game, the authority will get a percentage of the team revenues, he said.
"The most important part is not the money, but the message that this deal sends to event promoters," Mr. Kian said. "It validates the arena as a thriving venue."
About two years ago, former Miami Mayor Joe Carollo said he wanted to sell the money-losing arena. His remarks, prompted some event producers to stay away, Mr. Kian said, because they were uncertain how long the arena would be operating.
League officials said Mr. Waronker has proven in a short time to be a skilled team owner.
"He is a first-class individual," said Ron Hansis, the league's vice president of operations. "He is knowledgeable, progressive and has solid marketing plans for his teams. The city will be surprised to see the level of entertainment hockey he will bring to them."
Mr. Riggs said the Miami Manatees would not compete with the Florida Panthers because Mr. Waronker's niche would be to keep ticket prices low to make the games affordable to family groups. While Manatee ticket prices will range from $8 to $45, Panthers' tickets range from $14 to $90.
Mr. Waronker, whose goal is to own hockey teams in Florida's largest cities, is president and CEO of the CBD Development Group Inc. with offices in Mount Laurel, NJ, and Celebration. His company develops, builds and invests in real estate. He is also president of USALANDSALE.COM, a national real estate land bank, sale and auction Internet firm.