New ownership, old problems for Panthers
The announcement this week that the Florida Panthers have been sold to minority owners Cliff Viner and Stu Siegel was greeted with reports over the club's dire financial situation.
As noted in the Toronto Globe and Mail, no money is really changing hands as Viner and Siegel essentially are taking over the club's debts — believed to be as much as $80 million — from former majority owner Alan Cohen.
Their promises of accountability and change were greeted with doubt by critics pointing to a decade that has not been good for the Panthers on the ice or at the box office.
This is a franchise which last made the playoffs in 2000, has gone through several coaching and management changes and dealt away star players like Pavel Bure, Roberto Luongo, Olli Jokinen and Jay Bouwmeester.
Years of mediocrity have taken a toll on attendance, dropping from an average of 18,500 in 1998-99 to 15,621 by 2008-09, forcing the Panthers to stage a number of ticket giveaways in hopes of attracting more paying customers. No amount of free tickets however will entice people to plunk down money to watch a mediocre club with no sense of direction and no sign of improvement.
The newspaper reported the Panthers' losses were averaging $20 million per season recently. Little wonder Cohen wanted to sell the franchise, or that the league blessed the Panthers takeover by its minority owners in hopes of avoiding a potential replay of the well-documented problems currently plaguing the Phoenix Coyotes.