Trailing 3 games to 2 in a closely contested Eastern Conference semi-final series, the Florida Everblades are preparing for a playoff elimination game against the Reading Royals on Tuesday, April 30, while fans suddenly ponder the team’s immediate and long-term futures.
Though a comeback is required to continue defending last year’s Kelly Cup championship, word broke that the Everblades franchise, as well as the club’s home base of Germain Arena, will be actively marketed for sale by current majority owner, Peter Karmanos, Jr.
While no timetable has been established for finding new ownership, the team has retained an investment bank to expedite the process. Karmanos founded the Blades in 1997 with former business partner, Thomas Thewes, who died in 2008. Never failing to qualify for the playoffs in its 16 year history, Florida has long served as a model ECHL franchise. Annually enjoying one of the league’s top attendances, the club’s consistency was rewarded in 2012 with its first Kelly Cup championship.
Despite success on the ice, attendance figures have dipped in recent years and new ownership could generate fresh excitement. Once averaging near sell-out capacities throughout a 72 game season, the Blades currently see around 5,000 fans per contest at Germain Arena. Additionally, ticket sales decline sharply in the season’s final weeks, when much of the seasonal fan-base has already departed the region.
Also owner of the Carolina Hurricanes, Karmanos cited a desire to simplify his business holdings, as the businessman reaches the age of 70 and cuts back in other areas. The Canes are not for sale, however, and continue serving as the Everblades’ NHL affiliate, providing several prospects on the current roster.
A native of Michigan, Karmanos made his fortune as founding partner of Compuware in 1973. The Fortune 500 company, headquartered in Detroit, specializes in information technology and enjoys annual revenues in excess of $1 billion. Karmanos stepped down as its CEO in 2011.
Karmanos initially entered the hockey business in 1994 with the purchase of the Hartford Whalers. Not happy in the NHL’s smallest market, the franchise moved to North Carolina in 1997, and was re-branded as the Carolina Hurricanes.
That same year, Karmanos boldly placed a minor league hockey team deep within the Sunshine State and the decision has proven a stunning success. Installing Craig Brush as the team’s general manager, ownership further constructed a 7,000 seat arena in South Lee County, located adjacent to Interstate 75, at a cost of $25 million.
Believed to have recovered this investment, not only does Germain Arena still house the Blades, but the building has become the premier performance venue in Southwest Florida. Recent acts that generated large crowds include country music legend Willie Nelson, Ringling Brothers Circus, Disney on Ice, and comedian Jeff Dunham.
Located in Estero, convenient to both Florida Gulf Coast University and Miromar Outlets, Lee County values the arena around $12.5 million. While the Everblades franchise is worth significantly less, the package of team and building is likely to generate significant interest as a tempting (and fun) business opportunity.
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