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Rockets Owner Leslie Alexander formally submitted an application to bring an NHL expansion franchise to Houston, according to Eddie Sefko of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. The bid sets up a "showdown" between Alexander and IHL Aeros Owner Chuck Watson, who applied for a Houston franchise last month. Sefko writes at the "heart of the race" for a team is controlling interest in a new basketball/hockey arena that likely would be located in downtown "or in the Greenway Plaza area." Sefko: "Both owners have strong connections that could work in their favor in a hockey battle that could develop into an interesting ice show." Alexander's current lease with The Summit runs until 2003 and he has expressed interest in managing the new facility. Watson, however, owns the lease at The Summit, and any new arena "would likely have Watson as an operator of the building in some capacity" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 10/17). EARLY LINE: The CHRONICLE's Sefko notes Alexander is "close friends" with NBA Commissioner David Stern and that Stern remains a "confidant" of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Insiders, meanwhile, are "divided" on whether Alexander or Watson have the better chance for the franchise. Sefko cites some unnamed sources who believe the NHL would prefer to have an owner who is already "entrenched" in a city at the major league level. Others feel "a deep-pockets owner like Watson, who may be able to facilitate a new building more readily than Alexander, makes more sense." A third possibility also exists, as Gavin Maloof of Albuquerque, NM has filed an application for a Houston team as well. Sefko notes Maloof's bid is an "extreme long shot" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 10/17).
Hornets Owner George Shinn is considering both Raleigh, NC and Hampton Road, VA region as a possible home for an NHL expansion team, according to Rick Bonnell of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. Shinn recently met with Raleigh officials at the invitation of marketer Max Muhleman, who helped Shinn land the Hornets and is also working as a consultant for a potential Raleigh NHL bid. Shinn became involved with the Norfolk-VA Beach-Hampton Roads region through TV evangelist Pat Robertson, whose Christian Broadcasting Network is based there. Shinn said he has met twice with a mayors group from the VA region looking for a potential owner and has discussed the area with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Shinn: "I haven't filled out any application for Raleigh or Virginia Beach. In the future? That's a good question. I'm a businessman. I'd pursue it if it made sense." Shinn said bringing an NHL club to Charlotte "doesn't make sense" because the city is not "big enough to support two major league teams under the same roof." Shinn added that his "immediate focus" at the present time is on building a new uptown arena for the Hornets. Bonnell notes a VA bid "isn't likely" to be ready immediately, but ready to bid "over the next two years" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 10/16). FROM THE OLD DOMINION: Norfolk Mayor Paul D. Fraim confirmed he has met with Shinn, but would not say whether a potential NHL franchise was discussed. Fraim: "He came here at my request to offer advice and consultation on the prospects of Hampton Roads being a viable market for professional sports." Fraim added he was "encouraged" by the meeting. With 1.6 million residents, Hampton Roads is the nation's largest metropolitan area without a major league sports franchise (VIRGINIAN PILOT, 10/17).
While Dallas businessman John Spano and Islanders majority Owner John Pickett have "settled most key issues" in the proposed sale of the club to Spano, the two have yet to "hammer out fully" all contract language, according to an unnamed NHL source cited by Peter Botte of the N.Y. POST. Spano: "There's not much I can add except that it's just not done yet." It is believed that Spano has verbally agreed to purchase Pickett's 85-90% stake in the team for "slightly more" than $80M. Another source cited by Botte said Spano will be back in NY next week and hopes to meet with Nassau County Exec Thomas Gulotta about the prospects of building a new arena to replace Nassau Coliseum (N.Y. POST, 10/17).