The competition to bring a hockey team to St. John’s could involve more than just future on-ice activity at Mile One Centre.
It could involve the entire facility.
Both the people behind Atlantic Sports Enterprises (ASE), who own the St. John’s Edge of the National Basketball League of Canada, and another group headed up by local businessman Dean MacDonald and hockey executive Glenn Stanford, say they have interest in not just operating a hockey team at Mile One but also in managing the building.
Mile One CEO Sheena McCrate first revealed the possibility of such an arrangement to the CBC’s Mark Quinn on Wednesday. Later in the day, John Graham of ASE confirmed his group, backed by Edge owners Irwin Simon and Robert Sabbagh, are considering managing the building.
However, MacDonald indicated his group is much further along with such a plan, which includes acquisition of a team in the ECHL, a minor pro hockey circuit.
“I approached the city months ago with the concept of managing the facility, bringing in hockey and having a partnership with one of the world’s largest concert and live-event promotion companies,” said MacDonald, who did not identify the potential partners.
MacDonald, the executive chairman with Tuckamore Capital and a former chief executive officer with Rogers Cable, said he leveraged extensive friendship and business relationships with major league sports and concert-promotion firms in developing his plan.
“I wanted to do something special for St. John’s and approached the city on that, “ he said. “That includes an investment of tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure in addition to managing the facility and bringing more events to the facility.
“Obviously, hockey is a very important part of that.”
MacDonald said his group has already begun the process of acquiring an ECHL team.
He described the response from city officials to his proposal as extremely positive.
“They thought it was a great idea and we had a basic approval in principle and that’s kind of where it is right now,” he said.
“I believe we can acquire a team if we had to, but I won’t get into much more than that. I think there is a battle underway that shouldn’t be a battle. To us, it’s pretty black and white.”
Graham says his group's efforts in St. John’s — which are focused on acquisition of a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League franchise — aren’t contingent on eventually taking over management of the 16-year-old downtown facility.
“If we put a hockey team in (St. John’s), of course, we would like to better our deal, but I don’t have a problem if the city stays as owner (of Mile One) and (keeps) running it,” said Graham.
“Having said that, we are very prepared to bring the right partners together to run and manage the building in a very professional state and prepared to bring the right number of nights of entertainment to the building.
“The (Edge) ownership has made it clear we are prepared to look at options which include building management. But we are not saying to the city, ‘If you don’t give us the building, we’re not bringing a team.”’
Graham would not say if ASE was already tied in with a specific group specializing in so-called third-party management of arena, but noted Simon has extensive contacts with people associated with such companies.
"I wanted to do something special for St. John’s and approached the city on that. That includes an investment of tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure in addition to managing (Mile One) and bringing more events to the facility. Obviously, hockey is a very important part of that.”
As for the two groups’ work at acquiring hockey franchises, Graham insists ASE is following the same strategy it had before the emergence of the MacDonald group, even though the ECHL bid set in motion what might be described as a shotgun clause as it pertains to the hockey exclusivity given the Edge ownership when it negotiated the deal to bring pro basketball to Mile One.
“It’s a mechanism within that contract,” said McCrate. “One of the contingencies is that (the Edge owners) had first crack at bringing hockey (to Mile One) until March 31, 2019.
“But they don’t get a blanket on that for 19 months.”
That’s where the shotgun clause is applied. It gives Mile One the right to consider other serious hockey bids, and if one is made, as was the case with MacDonald and the ECHL, then the Edge have a 30-day window in which to show it has arranged toacquire a team.
If that doesn’t happen, said McCrate, “then it’s a free-for-all
“It doesn’t mean that we won’t reach a deal with John Graham, but that we will be able to talk to multiple parties at once.”
Graham seemed unconcerned the 30-day clause might present a hurdle in ASE’s path to icing a hockey team.
“I think there is a difference in strategy. We let our work do the talking,” he said. “We set up an organization and the ownership has made it very clear that it wants to run something and do it in professionally.”
However, Graham also believes the Edge ownership group “will defend their position,” with regards to hockey at Mile One.
“Unless the other side can prove that they have a hockey team and a league guaranteeing a club can come (to St. John’s), we don’t feel our exclusivity has any reason to be challenged,” said Graham.
“I believe we can acquire a team if we had to, but I won’t get into much more than that. I think there is a battle underway that shouldn’t be a battle. To us, it’s pretty black and white.
“That’s why we’re not jumping up and down over this.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, MacDonald sees the 30-day clause as being much more of a factor in potentially determining who wins out in the end.
“Logic would say to me that if they have 30 days to get a team and if they don’t have one, then I presume that the city, in good faith and operating in the best interest of its citizens, will negotiate with us,” said MacDonald, “ because we have made the application and because we have an ECHL franchise ready to rock and roll and provide hockey for Mile One next season.”