Centre Management, the arm of Abe Pollin's sporting empire that manages several arenas along the East Coast, isn't sure Baltimore wants to buy the product Tom Ebright is selling.
That product is an East Coast Hockey League team in a town on the brink of losing its American Hockey League Skipjacks.
And when Ebright, the Skipjacks owner, began negotiations this week on a lease at the Baltimore Arena for his would-be ECHL team, he was in for a surprise.
"There seems to be some resistance on the part of Centre Management to have the Coast League team in the building, in that we have made a money proposal to them that's better financially than the existing contract," Ebright said.
Ebright, who says he's lost nearly $2.5 million operating the Skipjacks here, plans to relocate his AHL franchise to Portland, Maine, for next season. Baltimore's spotty track record of support for the Skipjacks concerns Gary Handleman, vice president for facilities at Centre Management.
"Strictly to the Baltimore Arena, and not counting the spinoff things, the effect of losing the Skipjacks is very marginal at best," Handleman said.
Ebright submitted his first lease proposal to Handleman this week. Essentially, he said, it provides the same amount of money for Centre Management as the existing contract -- but in fewer dates. The AHL teams play 40 home games compared with 34 next season in the ECHL.
Ebright said the Skipjacks generate $85,000 in revenue for Centre Management.
They pay $1,500 in flat rent per game, plus 50 cents per ticket over 1,500 per game.
It is barely enough, Handleman said.
"Depending on his crowd size, we will make some money, but the money we make ultimately comes from concessions," he said.
Handleman said that the Arena possibly could make more money with as few as five prime concert dates in place of hockey.
"Depending on concession sales, novelty sales, we can make between $10,000 and $40,000 a night [on concerts]," he said. "If we got five or six Friday and Saturday dates, it would make sense for us to utilize the arena for something other than hockey."
Negotiations are still in the preliminary stage, and Handleman said the final decision will be a business decision.
"If Tom's proposal said he would pay us $7,000 a game, that makes sense for us off the bat," Handleman said.
"That's not what the proposal says. It's a matter of whether or not the Skipjacks and the Baltimore Arena can sit down and negotiate a lease good for both of us."
When asked if he expected hockey to be played in the Arena next season, Handleman said: "Given Tom's determination, I think there will be. He's anxious not to be the person who takes hockey out of Baltimore for good."