SBD/Issue 177/Franchises

Sports Properties Reportedly Set To Buy NHL Panthers, Assets

SPAC Agrees To Purchase Panthers,
But Nothing Signed Or Definite
Sports Properties Acquisition Corp. (SPAC) has "agreed to purchase" the NHL Panthers, BankAtlantic Center, the team's arena management company and some "land surrounding the arena" for $240M, according to a source cited by Ben Klayman of Reuters. The SPAC ownership group includes Medallion Financial Corp. President Andrew Murstein, former Nationals President Tony Tavares, Baseball HOFer Hank Aaron, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and Apollo Real Estates Advisors Senior Partner Richard Mack (REUTERS, 6/2). In Miami, Barry Jackson reports "nothing has been signed, and the deal isn't definite because the parties must work on finalizing language, which could take several weeks." Under terms of the deal, Panthers Owner Alan Cohen and his minority partners would receive stock in SPAC, "making the hockey team part of the public company." A source said that Cohen, who currently owns more than 70% of the franchise, has been "offered a prominent position" with SPAC, though he has "not decided whether to accept it." Once the deal is completed, the new ownership group "will announce whether it will move forward" with Cohen's proposal for a $2B mixed-use development project near the arena. Jackson notes Murstein "might emerge as the Panthers' 'control person.'" A source indicated that Murstein has been "involved in negotiations" with the franchise, but has "not informed the Panthers if he plans to run the team if the sale is completed." Cohen's ownership group has lost about $100M since acquiring majority interest in the Panthers from Wayne Huizenga in '01. Sources added SPAC "might keep" Panthers President & COO Michael Yormark, and will consult with the team's front office as the "franchise proceeds with offseason business" (MIAMI HERALD, 6/3). In Toronto, Kevin McGran reports the Panthers' sale "should have no effect" on the Coyotes situation (TORONTO STAR, 6/3).

WELCOME TO MIAMI? In Miami, Greg Cote writes under the header, "Panthers' Pending Sale Proves It's A Buyer's Market." The Panthers have not qualified for the playoffs since '00, so "what is not to like about an ownership change?" But Cote notes it is "so fitting of this franchise to sell itself to a brand new consortium with no local ties, a group that sounds like it will operate the team with minimal investment until which time it can flip the commodity for profit." Does SPAC "sound like a group that will immerse itself in South Florida, pour huge bucks and commitment into the team and be here long-term?" Regardless, it is "hard to think of this change as bad" (MIAMI HERALD, 6/3).

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