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The Internal Cap Proves Ownership Doesn’t Get It

08/03/10
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The Buffalo Sabres ownership team has put a fairly-strict internal salary cap in place that forced Tim Kennedy’s ouster from the team, as explained by Darcy Regier today during his meandering press conference. But whereas once the masses would be calling for his head, it was clear that he wasn’t acting of his own accord on this one. His revelation of the internal cap has people questioning, yet again, what in the hell ownership is doing.

(Note: For the remainder of this post, I will be referring to Tom Golisano – the benefactor – and Larry Quinn -the boss – as one entity, Quinnisano, unless it is imprudent)

In 2003, Tom Golisano submitted a $92M bid to the NHL to buy the dreadful Buffalo Sabres and keep them in the Queen City. He brought with him the disgraced former president of the team, Larry Quinn. During Forbes’ 2009 report on the team, they listed the team as being worth around $170M now. However, the team now needs to play past the second round of the playoffs to make a profit, mostly due to the rising cost of player salaries. In an attempt to control spending, Quinnisano’s internal salary cap installed this summer puts Regier in a bind in regards to how much he can spend to ice a winning club. While this move might be considered a wise decision in any other business corridor, owning a sports team isn’t a regular job.

Many business experts refer to owning a sports team as a “vanity asset” because it looks good to the public, but not to the bank account. Outside of the NFL, which is nearly a license to print money, most sports teams encounter operational losses year in and year out as they try to win their respective championship. This is especially true in the NHL, which is the smallest of the “Big Four” sports leagues in North America. The difference between Quinnisano and the majority of the rest of these owners is that they know not to operate their teams in terms of making money. Being in the black come the end of the fiscal year almost always takes the back seat to winning the title, and owners realize this.

But Quinnisano’s commitment to try and make money with the Sabres (or at least draw even) shows they are out of touch with reality as sports owners. Sure, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be fiscally responsible, but he shouldn’t be going into panic mode at the first signs of a loss. After all, as ranked (again) by Forbes, Tom Golisano is worth $1.4B (as in billion). A loss of $5.2M (est.) shouldn’t have him clutching his checkbook to his breast. But he clearly is, as we now know thanks to the internal cap.

Larry Quinn, year in and year out, talks about how the Sabres are devoted to winning the Stanley Cup. He talks about how it’s the ultimate goal for the team (wait, is there a goal one step further? Enlighten me, oh divine Lawrence). But when the managing partner handcuffs his general manager so that he cannot go and do every little thing he can to improve the team, that doesn’t look like a killer instinct. That looks like mizerly penny pinching. What’s the big difference of $35K/200K/700K (depending on how you look at it) when you’re almost $7M under the cap and claiming to want to make the team the best it can be?

In 2003, it was enough to want to just buy the team and keep them here. But now, in 2010, with the world’s best goalie and a stud defenseman on the verge of stardom, it’s long past time to finally give a damn. Not letting Darcy Regier go out and do whatever the hell he thought necessary is a damned fool mistake.

Once again the Sabres have culled images of being cheap and not committed, which last happened in the summer of 2006. We all know how that ended. Maybe history will repeat itself, with the team going on an unbelievable run that results in unearthly sales numbers for the new merchandise. One can only hope.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 08/03/10 7:56 PM

    I think the point that some people are missing (not us) is that this doesn’t do anything to help the widely held notion among NHL players that Buffalo is a shitty place to play. I care less about Tim Kennedy’s feelings than I do about that bit.

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