A Good First Step In Improving The XL Center

Whale At XL Center

The Bridgeport Sound Tigers' Shayne Wiebe is hit from behind by the Connecticut Whale's Mike Vernace as Whale goalie Jason Missiaen protects the net at the XL Center. (Richard Messina, Hartford Courant / October 12, 2012)

Global Spectrum won control of the XL Center for the next decade and Rentschler Field for the next seven years because of a superior capital investment structure.

OK, that reads with all the excitement of the real estate section. Please. Keep reading, sports fans. Don't click me off yet.

This piece will hold no all-time rants by Jim Calhoun or hilarious wisecracks by Geno Auriemma. There will be no promises of a return of the NHL today. Ronnie Francis isn't walking through that door.

To paraphrase Paul Pasqualoni, this arena and stadium thing is a work in progress. After months of bidding, a process long and drawn-out enough that thoughtful Capital Region Development Authority executive director Michael Freimuth said he wouldn't want to repeat it again, two points were eminently clear.

-- The AHL remains vital to the operation of the XL Center.

-- Although improvements to the XL Center are needed, desperately needed, Freimuth had two words for my clarion call for a $100 million upgrade to especially help UConn in its continued search to join one of the Big Five conferences.

"Good luck," Freimuth said.

Yikes, money must be tighter than Chris Christie in spandex.

That doesn't mean improvements aren't badly needed and, according to Freimuth, it was Global Spectrum's more aggressive stance in this area that won out over AEG. The Bushnell Group, the one that included a number of community investors, was eliminated after the first round of scoring bids in 10 different categories.

"We're local guys, we thought we had something to offer," said former Whaler Bob Crawford of the Bushnell Group. "Obviously, they had another opinion."

"Global and AEG were very, very, very close," Freimuth said. "It's a tough call. What made it happen was the capital investment structure. Global's was deeper for us."

First the sports part of this sports story.

Global Spectrum's winning bid is contingent on securing an AHL affiliate by March 1. The Whale has been barely drawing 4,000 fans in recent years, has sunk to the bottom-third of league attendance. A former NHL market has been hanging on an AHL market. Yet make no mistake, the team lights up the building and brings people downtown 40 nights a year. And if you don't think that's important, well, you weren't paying attention to the CRDA's words of recent days or to the empty streets when the XL Center is dark. The graying lady is a dank economic engine, but she's still chugging.

The AHL has indicated to the CRDA that it would like the Rangers to stay at the XL Center. And if the Rangers opted to leave, the AHL indicated that it would work with either Global Spectrum or AEG to secure another affiliation. AEG, according to Freimuth, had indicated that it had two other affiliations lined up if the Rangers left.

"I've also had confirmations from at least two other clubs that would like to have this market," Freimuth said. "Nobody else can get here unless the Rangers [who own the territorial rights] say they want out."

In its analysis, the CRDA said the AHL office noted "that the lease framework under which the Baldwin Group operated the franchise from the Rangers was 'not sustainable' for an AHL team and was one of the 'most onerous' in the 30-team league." You think? Charging the Baldwin Group $25,000 a night was a price doomed to failure.

"The AHL told us the [financial] performance of the team has been compromised by that deal," Freimuth said. "My extension of that is so has the building, because the more money that goes into the team, the less money that goes into the building."

Global Spectrum is the spawn of the Flyers and Ed Snider. If anybody knows what's right for a hockey affiliation, it should be Global and MSG.

Bushnell was hesitant to identify its operating manager. That hurt it in scoring. The XL Center has to be in the international marketplace for concerts and events, Freimuth said, and that requires a network that Global and AEG had and Bushnell did not. Although Freimuth said it wasn't in the scoring, the fact that AEG is being sold was in the CRDA's mind. Yes, it also helps that Comcast/NBC Sports broadcasts Hockey East.

Yes, it helps that Frank Russo, who once managed the Civic Center, will lead the Global charge and he told our Ken Gosselin on Thursday night that he expected to have an AHL deal wrapped up in a week. Inside the last offer from Global, Freimuth said, is the math that reflects the term sheet from the Rangers.

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