Archive for Friday, December 22, 2006

Is NHL coming to K.C.?

Penguins may be looking for new home

December 22, 2006

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— Supporters of Kansas City's bid to attract another NHL team - three decades after the first one bolted town - reacted with cautious optimism Thursday to Pittsburgh owner Mario Lemieux's announcement that the Penguins were off the market and would look into relocating.

"My caution is that I know with professional sports, you never know for sure until the deal is done," Mayor Kay Barnes said. "We'll just have to see how it unfolds."

Lemieux's announcement came a day after the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission rejected a slot application by Isle of Capri Casinos, which had promised to build a $290 million arena for the Penguins if its bid was approved.

Pittsburgh plays in 45-year-old Mellon Arena, the NHL's oldest venue, and would have to stay there for several more years even if a new arena deal can be reached. Kansas City, meanwhile, has the $272 million Sprint Center under construction and scheduled to open next fall.

And Anschutz Entertainment Group, which will manage the center, also has identified an owner for an NHL team: venture capitalist William "Boots" Del Biaggio III.

Del Biaggio, whose company is based in Menlo Park, Calif., already is a limited partner of the NHL's San Jose Sharks and part owner - with Lemieux - of the United States Hockey League's Omaha Lancers.

"He's obviously a very successful businessman - but even beyond that, he seems to get it," said Kevin Gray, president of the Kansas City Sports Commission. "He seems to understand what it takes to be a quality owner, and that's so important."

Tom Rieger, general manager of NHL 21, a two-man group working to bring an NHL team back to town, also said the new arena and Del Biaggio's ties to Lemieux could give Kansas City an edge over other cities - Houston, Winnipeg, Portland, Ore., and possibly Oklahoma City - with their own NHL dreams.

"We've been a bridesmaid in many discussions before this," said Rieger, an independent sports promoter. "I'm sure we'll be a bridesmaid until we get a team in the Sprint Center. The difference we've got going for us here is that the building is almost completed and that AEG has identified an owner."

The city's first NHL team, the Kansas City Scouts, drew almost 15,000 to their first game in 1974. But by the end of the year average attendance had dropped to around 7,300.

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