Local News

Fayetteville the Crowning Touch on Whalers Move

Posted May 2, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Barring an 11th-hour deal with the Greensboro Coliseum, the Hartford Whalers will move its temporary NHL home to Fayetteville, the team's general manager said Friday.

A package to bring the Whalers to the smaller Cumberland County Crown Coliseum for a two-year temporary stay could be approved by Whalers owner Peter Karmanos as soon as Friday night or Saturday, Hartford GM Jim Rutherford said.

The team's permanent home will be Raleigh's new $120 million arena, to be completed by 1999. A formal announcement on the team's move to North Carolina will come early next week.

``It's pretty obvious that our focus has shifted to Raleigh. You can draw your own conclusions with that,'' Rutherford said when asked if Columbus, Ohio was still in the running to get the Whalers.

``The temporary facility is the important issue now. Certainly the communication between (Karmanos) and the people in Raleigh has gone pretty well and they are getting closer to an understanding of what a deal will be.''

The Centennial Authority, the group that oversees Raleigh's new arena, has scheduled a meeting early Monday morning, most likely to sign the lease agreement with Karmanos.

Rutherford toured the Crown - located about an hour southwest of Raleigh - and met with local officials Friday morning for an hour to hammer out a deal. He emerged from the meeting to say the only negative about his visit was the size of the arena, which seats 10,000 for hockey.

That would be the smallest arena in the NHL, but Rutherford pointed out that cities such as Tampa Bay, San Jose and Calgary played in small buildings until their permanent arenas were built.

``This is nothing new. Tampa Bay did it, they played in a fairgrounds facility there,'' Rutherford said.

He said the Crown could work financially if the team targeted corporations, meaning the average ticket price would run $50-$60. The average NHL ticket last season was about $39.

``Obviously, this ticket price will be high here but as long as we can sell out the building we can make this building work,'' Rutherford said.

He felt confident the Crown would be sold out for all home games.

``From an excitement point of view from the players you are playing in a building where there is not an empty seat, so there is great atmosphere, it's special,'' he said. ``If I just do the numbers off the top of my head, I know we're in a stronger position than we were last year financially playing in Hartford. I know that the players would accept this knowing there would not be any empty seats.''

The Whalers lost $30 million over the first two seasons in Hartford in the late '70s, and about $15 million while drawing an average of 13,657 fans last year, according to Chris Brown, the team's media director.

The Whalers were set to play in the 21,500-seat Greensboro Coliseum for two years, but a lease deal could not be worked out. Fayetteville got into the picture Monday after it was learned there was a snag in Greensboro.

By DAVID DROSCHAK,AP Sports Writer Copyright ©1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.