Caps' new agreement with Jacks is threatened by possible move HOCKEY

March 06, 1993|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

The agreement that would keep the Washington Capitals' top developmental team in Baltimore next season is rapidly unraveling in the wake of the financial difficulties of Skipjacks owner Tom Ebright.

Capitals general manager David Poile said yesterday he is beginning to prepare for a Baltimore alternative.

"I thought we had a deal based on Tom wanting to go forward another year," Poile said. "Then I read the article [in Thursday's Sun] and spoke with Tom. He's had a complete change of heart in terms of not wanting to lose the money that he has been losing each year, and is very disappointed he's had no reaction to his press conference.

"What he's preparing me for is he's not going to operate next year [in Baltimore]. He's pretty definitive that he's not going to. I don't know what would happen in a short while that would change his mind. It's pretty clear to me that he is not going to operate."

On Feb. 19, Ebright and Poile held a news conference at the Arena announcing an agreement to extend the Skipjacks' affiliation with the Capitals for a sixth season. It was then that Ebright also warned Baltimore he might move the team after the 1993-94 season unless he received more financial support from the corporate community.

Since that time, he has upgraded the estimated departure time. Now he says it's probable the Skipjacks will leave Baltimore after this season, barring an 11th-hour development. And Poile said the agreement has not been signed, leaving the door open.

"It's better than 50-50 the team will leave after this year because of lack of support," Ebright said yesterday. "It's not 80 percent, but more like 60-40 or 65-35. As an optimist, I believe there's a solution, but we just haven't found it yet. I'm trying desperately to find it. If anybody has any ideas, I'm ready, willing and able to listen.

"I very much want to continue to operate the team in Baltimore. I just can't believe Baltimore isn't a great place for hockey. The last time I talked to David, I was discouraged. Nobody seemed to care very much, other than me."

Don Hutchinson, president of the Maryland Business Council, brought Skipjacks management together with corporate leaders at a reception last November -- with little success.

"We had 50, 60 business folks," Hutchinson said. "When we extended the invitation, a lot of the top CEOs were unable to attend. A lot of middle-level managers were involved."

And the result, Ebright said, was the sale of only four season tickets.

"I think it's fair to say this city and metropolitan area are concerned about the major-league sports," Hutchinson said. "They're very concerned about the Orioles. The corporate community is primarily responsible for their success and are in the process of determining what kind of commitments it can make for the NFL. That's at the top of the list.

"I think if you asked would they rather have the Skipjacks here or not, they'd say absolutely, we'd rather have them here. Are they prepared to make a large financial commitment? I think you'll find a hesitancy there."

Chip Mason, chief operating executive of Legg Mason Inc., said: "There's a limited amount as to how much any company will be able to give to sport. If you listen to what [President] Clinton is saying, he may well propose none of this is a write-off. If that happens, it will have an incredible effect on sports franchises."

Ebright is getting the message.

"I've been told football is the priority now, and it's very difficult for soccer or hockey to tell their story. I guess I know where I sit on the priority list. . . . It's very frustrating. If we were football or baseball, everybody would jump. But we're not asking people to jump."

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