Everblades, Germain Arena for sale, but maybe not for long

Dania Maxwell/Staff
Fans cheer as the Florida Everblades enter the rink for a game against the Reading Royals in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Germain Arena on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 in Estero, Fla.

Photo by DANIA MAXWELL // Buy this photo

Dania Maxwell/Staff Fans cheer as the Florida Everblades enter the rink for a game against the Reading Royals in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Germain Arena on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 in Estero, Fla.

Dania Maxwell/Staff 
 Fans cheer as the Florida Everblades enter the rink for a game against the Reading Royals in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Germain Arena on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 in Estero, Fla.

Photo by DANIA MAXWELL, NAPLES DAILY NEWS // Buy this photo

Dania Maxwell/Staff Fans cheer as the Florida Everblades enter the rink for a game against the Reading Royals in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Germain Arena on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 in Estero, Fla.

Everblades at a glance

Year founded: 1998

Franchise record: 617-343-112

Milestones:

November 1998: Open inaugural season, eventually losing in second round of playoffs.

April 2000: Attendance peaks at an average of 7,120 per game.

May 2004: Reach first Kelly Cup Finals, losing to Idaho Steelheads in five games.

May 2012: Defeat Las Vegas Wrangers in sold-out Germain Arena to win Kelly Cup.

Germain Arena at a glance

Year built: 1998

Capacity: 7,000-plus, depending on venue setup

Milestones:

November 1998: Opens for the first time, hosts first Everblades game.

August 1999: TECO People’s Gas signs 20-year, $7-million contract for naming rights.

June 2004: Germain Motor Co. takes over TECO’s naming rights contract.

November 2005: Owner Peter Karmanos Jr. decides against selling arena to brothers Robert and James Brooks.

April 2013: Karmanos publicly announces his intention to sell the arena.

Video from NBC-2

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect the location of the Ontario Reign and Elmira Jackals.

The Florida Everblades and Germain Arena are formally on the market.

But don’t expect them to stay there for long.

In the wake of owner Peter Karmanos Jr. publicly announcing his intention to sell Southwest Florida’s minor league hockey team and its largest sports arena, officials connected to the Everblades and its league said Tuesday they expect the franchise to become a commodity in the coming months. The Everblades’ stability and location could make the franchise enticing, they said, but packaging Germain Arena with it could also complicate the sale.

“That’s a highly respected franchise in the league,” said Matt Perry, president of Kansas-based National Sports Services, which has consulted on operations with three ECHL teams. “Even without looking at the (financial) numbers and what they’re looking to sell it for, I think the franchise would create some serious interest.”

Karmanos’ announcement, which comes as the Everblades’ reached Game 7 of the second round Tuesday, makes public what has been going on behind the scenes in recent years. Everblades President and General Manager Craig Brush said team officials have had various discussions about selling, but none have come to fruition.

“We’ve quietly talked to people in the last four or five years, but with the economy the way it is, it hasn’t really caused anything to happen,” Brush said. “It’s a limited field to begin with, and then you had a bad economy and a difficult banking situation.”

With the economy bouncing back, Everblades officials are going public with their desire to sell, in addition to hiring a Los Angeles-based investment firm to manage the sale. Everblades officials expect the team will remain in Estero regardless of who buys the franchise, and others affiliated with the league expect there will be demand for one of the league’s most stable operations and its 7,000-seat arena.

For 15 years, Karmanos and the Everblades have been a pillar of stability in the league, which has seen its share of turnover and franchise shuffling. In that time, various ownership structures have been employed for franchise buyers, potentially giving Karmanos options as he looks to sell.

In some cities, such as Fort Wayne, Ind., and Gwinnett, Ga., a group of local investors has banded together to buy the hometown team. In others, such as Ontario, Calif., a major conglomerate has taken over. And in several cities, such as Elmira, N.Y., Greenville, S.C., and Orlando, one or a few buyers made the purchase.

“Our ownership is varied, both in terms of the numbers of owners and the structure,” said Brian McKenna, commissioner of the 22-team ECHL. “What works in one market may not necessarily work in the next market.”

The Everblades offer several attractive features: a strong track record, a solid venue in Germain Arena, a stable league affiliation and a sought-after location in Southwest Florida. Revenue and profit figures aren’t available, but the Everblades have routinely ranked in the top-five in attendance and McKenna called the franchise “traditionally at or near the top for revenues.”

“They have a really good situation down there,” said Bob Ohrablo, managing partner and chief operating officer of the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears. “You have full control of the building and everything. The fan base, every time I go down there, it’s a good, solid crowd. They have a tradition you don’t see everywhere in the minor leagues.”

While the cost of Germain Arena might price out some buyers — most ECHL owners don’t own their team’s stadiums — the opportunity to own the facility could entice others, Brush said. The arena hosts more than 100 concerts, trade shows, graduation ceremonies and other events annually.

“I think it makes a sale a little more complicated, but I also think having control of the building is a valuable aspect of it,” Brush said.

At age 70, Karmanos is scaling back his business portfolio. Karmanos stepped down in March as chairman of the board from Compuware Corp., the Detroit-based computer company he co-founded in 1973. In January, the Raleigh News & Observer reported Karmanos has brought on investors to the Carolina Hurricanes, the NHL team in which he owns a roughly 70 percent stake.

Next up: selling the ECHL team he co-founded in 1998.

“I am at a point in time where I want to simplify my life,” Karmanos said in a statement. “While I have thoroughly enjoyed owning the arena and team and seeing the tremendous benefit they have been to the community, it is now someone else’s turn.”

Not taking a turn: the Lee County government, which Karmanos and his two partners approached in 2007 about buying the arena and 30 neighboring acres for $36 million.

“The county has been approached several times over the years about purchasing Germain Arena and has declined each time,” Assistant County Manager Pete Winton said in a statement. “Currently, there are no discussions.”

The county would still be able to use the arena as a hurricane shelter, regardless of the buyer, county officials said.

Should Karmanos find a buyer soon, it’s still a months-long process of negotiating and finalizing the sale, McKenna said.

The possibility exists, however, that a new owner is in place before the puck drops on the 2013-14 season. If that happens, it will end an era of ECHL success in Southwest Florida, with hopes that a new one begins, McKenna said.

“(Karmanos) and his group have been model owners in our league for 15 years,” McKenna said. “We’re certainly happy to have had them.”

Staff writers Tim Aten and Maryann Batlle contributed to this report.

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