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TAMPA - If the Tampa Bay Lightning are put up for sale - and that's not a sure bet - will anyone want to buy the franchise?

There's some debate this week about who would want to buy the team and for how much.

A wealthy businessman may want to buy the team because of the visibility that a major sports team would draw to his business, or perhaps to himself, said Sal Galatioto, a New York-based investment banker hired to explore the Lightning's options.

However, one sports business consultant told the Tribune that anyone looking at buying the club might have serious reservations about the state of the National Hockey League.

The Lightning's future became an issue this week when news broke that the Lightning's owner, Palace Sports & Entertainment, has hired Galatioto Sports Partners to help "maximize" the team's value.

Maximizing value could mean selling a minority share in the team or cutting the team's salary. But an outright sale of the team is a possibility, Galatioto said.

"Look, if you get the right offer, anything could be for sale," he said.

Palace Sports is considering its options because of the franchise's continuing financial struggles. The company receives revenue from hockey and other events at the St. Pete Times Forum, but it still is projecting a loss of about $9 million this year.

Across the country, some economists, journalists and hockey player representatives view with skepticism hockey team owners' claims of losses. The theory is that the owners use accounting tricks to claim losses.

However, Lightning executives insist the team is in the red.

"Mr. Davidson has always said that if we could operate with less than a $5 million loss per year, we could be here forever," team President Ron Campbell said of team owner Bill Davidson.

Despite its losses, Galatioto said the Lightning could be an attractive purchase because the team is in a growing area of the country and has a growing fan base. In fact, ESPN.com shows the Lightning with the third-highest average home attendance in the league, drawing about 19,826 fans a night.

With Wall Street bankers earning huge salaries and bonuses, the manager of a hedge fund - a type of private investment fund - might want to buy a hockey team.

How much the team might fetch is hard to say, but Forbes magazine pegged the team's value at $172 million in its Nov. 27 edition. Galatioto wouldn't say whether that's anywhere close to its real value.

Lightning Owner Weighs Options
 

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With the third-highest average home attendance in the National Hockey League, the Tampa Bay Lightning could draw prospective buyers. The team is in a growing market and has an expanding fan base.
That's one reason why I think Tampa won't be a team moving in the future. To be honest I do find it surprising why they are the third-highest in home attendance with all the other teams in huge hockey markets.
 
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