Black Bears, Federal Hockey League talk; no decision yet
The fate of professional hockey in North Adams has yet to be determined.
After a two-hour conference call between Berkshire Black Bears representatives and Federal Hockey League owners and administrators, no determination was made Tuesday as to the Black Bears' application for admission to the league as an expansion franchise.
FHL Commissioner Don Kirnan is hoping for a decision from the owners by Wednesday afternoon, while Black Bears President Phil DeFranco said he doesn't expect a decision until both sides' legal teams exchange contracts and documents, which could take a few weeks.
Both sides said one of the sticking points was financial security. Kirnan said the league needs assurances that the North Adams franchise would be able to finish its inaugural season, while DeFranco said a possible $100,000 irrevocable line of credit -- which he claimed was suggested by one of the owners on the conference call -- is not something he's willing to put up.
"They changed some of the criteria during the meeting today," DeFranco said. "First it was supposed to be a $100,000 performance bond, which I told them I could get, but it would be Sept. 1 until I could get it.
"Then they started asking questions, and one of the team owners said he didn't really like the performance bond. He would prefer a $100,000 liquid line of credit that was irrevocable. I said ‘It [isn't] going to happen.' "
Kirnan didn't get any surprises in the conference call. He added that he spoke with Darin Lane, rink manager at the Peter W. Foote Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink in North Adams, on Monday night. The call was regarded as "pretty positive."
What it boils down to for Kirnan and the FHL, though, is the willingness of the owners to change some of their requirements for admittance. The owners are evaluating the amount of risk they would take on by adding a North Adams franchise.
"That's something we have to discuss, to see if they're willing to reduce the amount of security," he said. "It's all based on the other owners' situations. There's a varying amount of investment that everybody has. There are advantages for taking them in; there are disadvantages."
Kirnan indicated that the size of the Vietnam Veterans Rink in comparison to rinks like the Danbury (Conn.) Arena, the home of the FHL's Whalers, could be an issue. That arena is listed as having a capacity of 3,050 fans, according to the FHL's website. The Vietnam Veterans Rink seats 1,060 people.
"A really good night in Danbury would be a really good month in North Adams," Kirnan said. "Ticket prices are double, and the venue is three times larger in Danbury. Technically, they have the ability to do six times the gross of a game as North Adams."
DeFranco said he was also asked to sign a 10-year non-compete clause, which he was told was required of no other team in the five-team FHL. He declined to do so, offering a three-year deal that guaranteed he wouldn't be an owner or work in any other "single-A level" league, as he put it.
The Black Bears began as the first member of the North Atlantic Professional Hockey League, which has announced it will postpone its inaugural season until 2015. DeFranco previously said he would leave the NAPHL's front office by the end of the fiscal year if the Black Bears were accepted into the FHL.
DeFranco also said the league was asking for $24,000 in dues, with half up front before any games were scheduled. DeFranco said he could pay the dues, but only under a different time frame than the league asked.
DeFranco was surprised to learn of Kirnan's expectation of a decision by Wednesday, as he expected discussions and document sharing between his lawyer and the FHL's legal representatives to take weeks due to other cases his lawyer had in front of him.
If the Federal League decides to deny the Black Bears admission to the league, DeFranco reiterated that the franchise would likely go on a one-year hiatus -- like the NAPHL -- and that it would "probably" return to its original league and start in 2015.
"I'm just waiting on them," DeFranco said of the FHL. "They told me they'd send me something from their attorney, regarding the documents, as early as possible.
"The ball's in their court. I'd love to be in the league, but they've got to be willing to negotiate. Without negotiation, it's not going to happen."
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