Founders may sell league to save it
'A monumental feat': U.S. group would own WHA, teams under single
Saturday, October 02, 2004
The World Hockey Association's founders will spend this weekend
trying to sell off ownership of the league to an unnamed U.S. group
after its most credible franchise, the Dallas Americans, lost hope
there would be a season this year and bailed out.
Sources told the National Post that a rescued WHA, and its teams,
could take the form of a publicly traded company, according to a plan
given serious consideration at a WHA board meeting in Toronto last
"To go that route ... that's something that's not going to happen
overnight as well," a source said. "It was either that or try to find
some high-profile individuals with a lot of money that would back
[the league] up."
It was the plan to go public with the troubled, upstart league that
convinced Dallas franchise owners Rick Munro and Ed Belfour, the star
goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs, that playing this season and
capitalizing on the NHL lockout was beyond the realm of possibility,
a source said. It drove Munro and Belfour to abandon a viable Dallas
franchise that was more than eight months in the making.
Munro told the Post Wednesday that the WHA-minimum five teams had
been unable to secure arena leases for their franchises and he could
not continue amidst such uncertainty.
League co-founder Al Howell said yesterday he is in talks with a
group out of New York and Miami who intend to change the format of
the WHA from a league with five or six separate ownership groups to a
single entity that owns and controls the league as well as the
"With the present ownership, we simply can't play this year, so the
option is that a group has stepped forward suggesting that they have
enough money to operate all six teams, and it would all be owned by
the league," he said. "We have not received an official offer but we
anticipate that's going to happen over the weekend. And if it does,
and they can provide evidence they have the money to do it, we won't
stand in the way."
The potential deal, Howell said, is premised on an understanding that
the WHA will actually play at some point in the 2004-05 season.
Howell, who said he would still own shares in the new WHA ownership
group, was working toward a start date of Dec. 26 before this sale
"I certainly wouldn't think there's any motivations to deal if it
wasn't going to play this year," Howell said. "Our motivation is that
if this could happen and there's a magic wand that could make six
teams play hockey this year, I'm happy as can be."
Already there is concern and doubt about the deal emerging from
franchise owners who may now be forced to renegotiate their
involvement in the league with a new ownership group.
Jay Patel, chief executive officer of Senticore, the publicly traded
company that owns the Detroit franchise rights, said he is willing to
work with a new group, but believes individual teams should remain
"My first and primary goal would be to see the league structure stay
as it is," he said. "I think to restructure at this time might be
asking for a monumental feat. If they can pull it off, hats off to
them. Otherwise, it looks like it's going to be difficult."