Islanders take over AHL affiliate Sound Tigers

By Pat Wallace

The New York Islanders formally announced Tuesday afternoon the purchase of their top farm club at the Arena at Harbor Yard. The Bridgeport Sound Tigers sale was unanimously approved by the American Hockey League’s 27 other owners on Friday, said League president and CEO David Andrews. The Islanders now have an 84 percent say in the operation of their affiliate, which is good news for the league and local community, said Andrews.

“What [Islanders co-owner] Charles [Wang] and his ownership group have done in New York with the Islanders, in terms of taking a legendary franchise, and leading it towards a resurgence, I don’t think many thought possible before Charles bought the team,” Andrews said. I think we’re going to see the same thing happen here in Bridgeport.”

Wang said he’s looking to make the Sound Tigers an attraction in Bridgeport.

“In every metropolitan area there are professional sports and that should be the jewel of that community. We don’t feel that that is today, we need the support of the local community to make the Sound Tigers that jewel,” said Wang, who also owns the New York Dragons arena football team.

Wang introduced incentives to show the new ownership’s commitment to Bridgeport. The Islanders will host the New Jersey Devils in an NHL pre-season match on October 1st in Bridgeport, a game originally scheduled on Nassau Coliseum ice. Sound Tiger season ticket subscribers will receive tickets to three select Islander games and a meet-and-greet with players in the organization after the Devils-Islander exhibition. Wang said anyone who purchases season tickets by the end of August will receive tickets to an Islanders-Sound Tigers scrimmage during training camp. Wang is hopeful in raising attendance figures from last season’s average of 4,864 and generating an excitement in the community.

“It’s not a magic kind of a thing, you know, success,” said Wang. “When you have more fans from Wilkes-Barre [Scranton Penguins] here rooting for a team in a [Calder Cup] playoff game than we have from Bridgeport you know you’re not successful.”

Local officials say Wang, former Computer Associates chairman and founder, is the right name to lead the Sound Tigers. “Charles has a proven track record as a good corporate citizen, very civic minded,” said Bridgeport Mayor John M. Fabrizi. “I think that Bridgeport will benefit in many areas through Charles’ leadership and through his ownership with the Sound Tigers.”

While Wang takes charge, Rob Boe, Sound Tigers’ founder, and his partners retain a 16 percent share of the franchise.

The Islanders filed suit in United States District Court in April alleging the Sound Tigers’ ownership group has not paid $725,823 for 2003-04 affiliation fees. The suit was dropped three weeks ago, according to the District’s records, apparently when the Islanders showed an interest in acquiring their American League partner.

Islanders Senior VP/Operations and Alternate Governor Mike Pickers, who would not go into pricing, said the Islander saw a marriage of the two franchises was the best option. Pickers said New York wouldn’t be taking on any debt from the previous ownership.

“The first thing that happens with that money is that it goes to pay the debts accumulated over the few years of operation,” said Pickers. “So within the next one to two weeks, the people that have obligations will will be paid and we can start with a fresh slate going forward.”

The Sound Tigers financial problems extended beyond their parent club. The team’s flagship radio station, WICC-AM, dropped broadcasts of games shortly after the Islanders filed suit. It was reported other local businesses weren’t paid as well.

Pickers said there was a significant drop in revenue as the Sound Tigers entered their third year in the league.

“Sponsorship was half what it was the year prior,” said Pickers. “The attendance was generally flat. So, as a whole, we lost the prior ownership was significantly down in their revenue. So obviously, there’s no secret to why they struggled financially.”

Boe was the Islanders original owner, along with the NBA’s Nets, at the Nassau Coliseum until he hit financial problems in 1976. Boe sold the Nets and he was removed as managing general partner of the Islanders by New York State Supreme Court in 1978. Boe founded the Sound Tigers in 2001.

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