It’s always been mind-blowing to think that the Minnesota Wild – sold-out main attraction in THE STATE OF HOCKEY – could be an annual money-losing franchise. Granted, missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs doesn’t exactly fill the coffers, but this is like cultivating the richest soil on the farm and only being able to grow dandelions.
The losses haven’t been massive in past years, but columnist Charlie Walters of the Pioneer Press reported on Sunday that the Wild ran up a significant debt in the 2012-13 lockout shortened NHL season, even as a playoff team.
A little birdie says the Wild lost $30 million during their abbreviated 2012-13 season, and a cash call was made to team investors in February. The Wild paid bonuses totaling $20 million to sign free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
So do we blame the NHL lockout for this reported debt, or owner Craig Leipold’s up-front money to Parise and Suter?
This isn’t the first “little birdie” to chirp at Walters. It’s fairly obvious he has a source with knowledge of Wild ownership. From Aug. 2012:
The Minnesota Wild have to pay $10 million bonuses by Saturday, Aug. 18, to each of the star free agents they signed in July, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. With those bonuses due, a little birdie says, virtually all of the Wild's 11 limited partners last week agreed to commit to a total capital call of $10 million. Principal partner Craig Leipold is expected to fund the remaining $10 million.
There was another cash call in November, as the Wild sought to fund the team through the NHL lockout.
While the cash output for the two free-agent signings was significant, the Wild claim it wasn’t the signing bonuses that led to a financial loss this season. From the Pioneer Press, speaking about Leipold and Wild CFO Jeff Pellegrom:
Leipold and Pellegrom met the following morning to create a budget with estimations for what signing Suter and Parise would mean for ticket sales, merchandise sales and sponsorships.
"We had to be aggressive in our forecasting to make numbers work," Leipold said. "We thought we might have been too aggressive, but as it turns out we were fine."
In the end, the Wild lost money on the season, but that was because of the lockout. If the numbers held true for a full season, they would have "blown away" their projections, Leipold said. "We feel the excitement is still out there, and it's obvious that it is because of the excitement of our fans," he said.
Is that ignoring the obvious – that $20 million handed to two players during a work stoppage leads to a $30 million loss? – or a fair assessment that it was the lockout that foiled the Wild’s finances?
Consider this: The team estimated before the season that it would lose $1 million in revenue for every home game it lost to the lockout. So that’s a $17 million loss in a 48-game season, plus losses in the preseason.
The lockout also impacted the Wild’s chance to capitalize on Parise and Suter with a proper ramp-up to the season. That affected marketing, merchandizing, ticket packages and the lot.
So yeah, blame the lockout rather than the signings which, in the long-run, could erase that debt and make the Wild profitable.
Still, $30 million is an elephantine figure for a playoff team in Minnesota, if accurate. Not many teams dished out $20 million in signing bonuses during a work stoppage; but it does make you wonder how much some of the League’s other franchises lost in the truncated campaign.