Komets owner caused mess, coliseum manager says
By BLAKE SEBRING Of The News-Sentinel
Tired of taking the blame from Komets owner David Welker, Memorial Coliseum’s manager said the main iseue with the franchise's proposed move to Albany, N.Y., isn’t money from parking and concessions, but poor management.
Yesterday, General Manager Phil Olofson released five years of coliseum financial figures relating to the Komets. The figures show the franchise has been earning less money each year though the coliseum was charging less.
The Komets’ rent dropped from $169,644 for the 1985-86 season to $82,900 last year. Gross receipts dropped from $831,487 five years ago to $657,560 last year!
Welker has owned the Komets for three years. In that time, rent has dropped from $112,750 to $82,900. According to coliseum figures, Welker paid 15.4 percent of gross receipts for rent in 1987-88, 11.9 percent in 1988-89 and 12.6 percent last year. Olofson said the amount of rent was a set fee.
"It has to be bad management in some way," Olofson said. “The coliseum has nothing to do with the operation of the team itself. These figures reflect public interest, and it isn’t there.
”Welker, who is in Vancouver, British Columbia, for the International Hockey League meetings, said he has invested more than $1 million in the franchise and is giving up on it. He bought the team for $300,000 and..said he took overlosses of more than $100,000 in tickets and advertising from the previous owners. According to Welker, the Komets lost $265,000 during his first year, about $100,000 the second year and about $200,000 last year.
On June 7, Welker signed an unrefundable lease through fax machines with Knickerbocker Arena officials in Albany for an undisclosed amount. Welker said he didn’t make up his mind on the move until he sold only 500 season tickets at $198 this spring.
Welker said the money from season ticket sales will be refunded as soon as the issue is decided.
“I did the best I could and didn’t poor-mouth things," Welker said. "Albany didn’t haw a team, and to attract one they said they will see that we don’t lose money because they needed a tenant."
Albany has been trying to attract a team in the American Hockey League but was turned down because of the proximity of the AHL’s Glens Falls Red Wings. The city also tried to attract a teamfrom the Global Hockey League, but the league postponed its start until 1991.
The Komets’ financial problems can be charted through the loss of fans. During 48 dates, including seven playoff games, in the 1985-86 season, 188,502 fans attended games according to turnstile figures. Those figures determine how many people attend the games, not how many people pay. Last season, 121,001 fans attended 43 games, including two playoff games. Average attendance has dropped from 3,928 five years ago to 2,813 last season. Three years ago, when W'elkertook over, the average attendance 3,536.
Olofson said the coliseum has lowered the' Komets’ rent twice during Welker’s ownership, including cutting the rent more than $27,000 after the start of the 1988-89 season.
“They are valued customers, and we started taking the position that two-thirds of the loaf is better than none," Olofson said. “The fact, is we have gone- down substantially all along and (made) allowances for so many things that we just can’t do it any longer."
Like the Komets, the coliseum's share of money has dropped steadily in three years. Money from parking has dropped from $60,099 to $44,864, and concessions dropped from an estimated $141,000 to $95,500. The coliseum’s total receipts from the Komets, which includes parking, concessions and rent, has dropped from $379,500 five years ago to $245,064 last year.
Welker also paid $11,550 for ice rental last year and $10,250 for signs, security and use of the coliseum ticket offices.
“He couldn’t even come close to what we do for him for the money he pays us," Olofson said. "It’s ridiculous the work we did for him for the minimal money he paid us."
Olofson said the coliseum used these figures to try negotiating with Welker, who continually asked for a part of parking and concessions. That is now impossible, Olofson said, because of the new Expostion Center, which sometimes outdraws concurrent events in the coliseum.
“We’ve always known where we’ve been with him," Olofson said. “We pointed it out to him all the time. We kept giving him more and more relief, and instead of promot: ing the hockey team, he'd rather fight with us. There’s no question that he has done a poor job of managing his franchise.”
Welker said he tired of fighting the coliseum and recently talked to a broker about selling the team, but received no offers.
The fans expected a miracle, and I'm not a miracle. I tried, and I did my best," Welker said.
“I paid my dues and kept this team going. I had to be the martyr in this town. The fans ought to be happy, they get rid of me and they’re getting a new franchise if this works out the way I want it to."