Chilling effects put hockey future on slippery slope
The Komets are gone with the wind.
And frankly, Fort Wayne, you don’t give a damn.
What was the oldest franchise in the International Hockey League is past tense. The Komets are as much a part of Fort Wayne history as General Mad Anthony Wayne, Wolf & Dessauer’s and Ronald Reagan’s boot prints in the mud and flood of 1982.
Nobody is sure if hockey will return to Fort Wayne. In the past week there’s been a lot of posturing between Stephen Franke, prospective buyer of the Flint Spirits, and Memorial Coliseum management. If Franke gets a good lease agreement from the coliseum, chances are well never miss a faceoff. But so far,
deals are about as firm as that mud in which Reagan stepped.
The only sure thing is Fort Wayne has lost the Komets. Owner David Welker has gotten league approval to move the franchise to Albany, N.Y. For the first time in 39 years, Fort Wayne is without a hockey team.
And you don't give a damn.
Nor do I blame you.
Like bickering children standing over a shattered vase, the Komets and coliseum have pointed the finger of blame at one another.
We’re tired of hearing the whining.
We don’t care who’s right or who’s wrong anymore.
“The last five to eight years, it seems, all we’ve heard is bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch,” said WOWO Radio’s Bob Chaser longtime voice of the Komets.
Club owners — from Colin Lister in.’82, Bob Britt in ’85 and Welker in ’87 have faulted the coliseum for the team’s financial struggles. The rent was too high, and they weren’t getting a piece of the parking and concession.
Like an ever-present dark cloud on the horizon, all three talked about the possibility of moving the team. If money talks, no money walks.
The coliseum felt it did its part by - dropping rent considerably, from $169,644 in the 1985-86 season, to $82,900 last season. It’s a magnanimous gesture coliseum General Manager Phil Olofaon points to often.
"It’s really simple arithmetic,” Olofson said. “What’s the difference if we give them a dollar from the rent or a dollar from the concessions?”
What is the difference?
Let’s tell the coliseum, “OK, keep the rent at $169,644, but give us half of parking and concession.” The parking and concession total in the ’85-’86 season was $209,856. Half of that would be $104,928 — $22,028 more than the current rental rate of $82,000.
From that perspective, I'd rather
have a share of parking and concession. .
But the team has compounded its own problems through mismanagement.
By the time Britt sold the team to
Welker, the club was more than
$200,000 in debt
Welker rolled in full of promises and
wacko ideas. He hired former Detroit
Tigers pitcher Denny McLain to help with P.R., but McLain dldn't last"
Welker changed the team’s logo a couple of times. He talked about selling
a non-alcoholic wine he intended to produce. He promised the fans free parking but quickly reneged when the venture became too expensive.
But Welker's biggest mistake came
when he reduced single-game ticket prices and refused to reimburse season ticket holders. Consequently, it was cheaper to buy tickets one at a time rather than a season ticket.
On and on it went.
Meanwhile, the vase remains broken,
and the mess is still on the floor.
Perhaps Franke will bring the Spirits
— as well as a new spirit — into Fort Wayne. If he does, he’ll inherit the team’s old name and maybe old coach and a lot of old problems.
The $200,000 hole in which Welker bought the Komets is nothing compared to the sorry state of hockey that remains for the next owner.
If there is a next owner.