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Florida Panthers threat to relocate is real

QMI Agency

The BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., home of the Florida Panthers. (QMI Agency)

The BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., home of the Florida Panthers. (QMI Agency)

SUNRISE, FLA. - 

The threat that the Florida Panthers could relocate is real.

As reported earlier, co-owner Vincent Viola is demanding $78 million in public funds over 14 years to offset his team’s losses.

Former Broward Country mayor Barbara Sharief, now a council member, said this week that Viola’s current demands would be a non-starter.

“If you were to bring this item in its current state before the commission it probably wouldn’t pass at all,” Sharief told TVA Sports.

The team’s current lease with the county provides an 80%-20% revenue-sharing ratio in favour of the franchise. Broward County commissioners want to change the lease to increase the county's share to 70%-30%, but Viola has refused.


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Sharief said that if the team leaves, it would take with it a lucrative AEG events contract.

“It would be very difficult for us to book shows and to fill up the arena,” said the politician. “So essentially … we would have a concrete dinosaur just sitting there.”

She provided TVA Sports with a preliminary study that shows the BB&T Center is worth $450 million, but would be valued at just $60 million without the Panthers.

The Panthers drew only 7,311 fans for its home opener, a 1-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators on October 13.

Viola has said he wants the team to stay in south Florida and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman refuses to talk about relocation, but Broward politicians have made it clear that a deal is crucial to the future of NHL hockey in the area.

The Panthers have sent just one cheque to the county since it joined the NHL in 1993. It was able to do so because it’s entitled to deduct player salaries from its reported profits.

That might have seemed like a good deal for the county in the mid-1990s when the team’s payroll was around $15 million. This season, the Panthers' payroll tops $60 million.

Broward County commissioners are set to vote next spring on Viola’s $78-million demand.

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