The Jeff Jacobs column that recently appeared in the Hartford Courant was an accurate representation of the significant financial and business challenges that Whalers Sports & Entertainment faces in operating the Connecticut Whale under the current XL Center lease terms. Some clarification needs to be added on our part, however, in terms of characterizing the working relationship between WSE and the AEG management of the XL Center.
One thing that we did not do sufficiently in the course of our conversation with Jeff Jacobs was to emphasize that, while the financial terms of the XL Center lease agreement have been a significant burden to our business, the AEG staff have been excellent operational partners to work with. Everyone responsible for assisting us in putting on the Whale games has been consistently responsive to our day-to-day needs and has given a top-notch effort in helping us to ensure that our games remain the best in local sports entertainment, and that the fan experience at Whale home games is unmatched.
It bears noting, too, that prior to the agreement with WSE to take over business operations of the Wolf Pack in September, 2010, AEG and Northland put significant effort and capital into building the Wolf Pack brand. From continuing to make ticketing options more fan-friendly and affordable to putting considerable man-hours and energy into game-night entertainment and promotions, Northland/AEG did put plenty of resources behind the battle to make the Wolf Pack a success at the gate.
The deal to make WSE the business operator of the AHL team also was, at its essence, a move by AEG that was motivated by a genuine concern for the best interests of the franchise going forward, a change that was made with the aim of giving the team its best chance for business prosperity. As we emphasized in our talk with Jeff, we entered into the terms of that agreement willingly and under no deception, so we certainly bear, and accept, a fair share of the blame for the fact the lease has become burdensome to WSE. The bottom line is, we have learned much in our nearly two full seasons of operating the team, and we are as confident as ever that the Whale can have a great long-term future, if we can come to an agreement with AEG on a tweak of the financial model. We have great confidence, also, in the keen business sense that the AEG brain-trust possess, and that we will be able to agree on a re-made rent structure that makes good sense for all concerned.
There is one more season left on the Whale’s lease deal with the XL Center, and that is next AHL season, 2012-13. We remain totally committed to negotiating a long-term agreement that makes financial sense for the Whale to be viable at the XL Center for years to come, as we continue our steadfast pursuit of our goal of bringing the Hartford hockey market to its greatest possible level of prominence. That is the long-term vision, and we are optimistic that a deal can be reached soon that affords us not only that chance for long-term success, but also a better financial situation for the year remaining on our existing deal. Regardless of whether or not any accommodation is made for next season, however, we are one-hundred percent committed to fulfilling the last season of our agreement, and guaranteeing that the Whale will play at the XL Center for the 2012-13 AHL season. We will honor our commitment to the great hockey fans of the Hartford market in good faith, and we will pour every ounce of our collective energy into good-faith negotiations to secure a long-term business deal that firmly solidifies, and enhances, the future of pro hockey in downtown Hartford.
Howard Baldwin, Sr., Chairman/CEO
Howard Baldwin, Jr., President/COO
Whalers Sports & Entertainment