Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers’ owners vow to not move team

Florida Panthers owners Doug Cifu and Vinnie Viola said the franchise will remain in South Florida.
Florida Panthers owners Doug Cifu and Vinnie Viola said the franchise will remain in South Florida. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

On the eve of the opening of training camp, Florida Panthers owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu said the franchise will remain in South Florida.

In a letter written to stem rumors of relocation, Viola and Cifu wrote that “as we close in on the one-year anniversary of our ownership of the Florida Panthers, we want to reiterate our commitment to Broward County, South Florida and our Panthers fans and business partners.

“As we said at the press conference when we bought the team, we view ourselves as stewards of the team for the community and our plan is to build an organization that makes South Florida proud and to win the Stanley Cup in South Florida.

“Despite media speculation to the contrary, we have no plans or intentions to move this franchise.”

With the team trying to change its lease with Broward County and erase an annual $4.6million bond payment — Cifu told the county commission the team is “losing $100,000 per day” in a February meeting — there has been speculation the team could be on the move, especially with new arenas being built in Las Vegas and Quebec City.

The Panthers are locked into a lease with the Broward County-owned BB&T Center in Sunrise through 2028.

The team is asking Broward County to absolve it of its annual bond debt payment by having the 2-cent tourism tax cover it in exchange for a higher profit-sharing rate between the team and the county.

In the course of the lease, the team has paid Broward County only once, when it made the playoffs in 2012.

The Panthers also want the county to take over insurance on the building.

Rumors about relocation took off when Cifu told FoxSports.com in August that “the current business model is not sustainable.”

Viola, the majority owner of the Panthers, bought the team for a reported $250million last September. The team added plenty of payroll since reacquiring goalie Roberto Luongo in a trade last March. Florida’s payroll is currently estimated at $66million, which ranks 17th in the league according to capgeek.com.

“It is no secret that the Panthers and BB&T Center have lost tremendous amounts of money over the last dozen years,” the owners wrote Wednesday.

“We are working hard to address this situation.”

County auditor Evan Lukic has disputed figures provided by the team, writing in a report before Viola and Cifu took over that the Panthers’ organization made more than $120million in profits since moving to the arena in 1998.

Since the team moved from Miami, however, it has changed hands a number of times. Viola and Cifu bought the team from Cliff Viner, who had been a minority owner but took over the franchise from Alan Cohen in 2009.

CAMP OPENS

The Panthers report to the BB&T Center on Thursday morning for medicals and physical fitness tests.

The first official practice of the 2014-15 season under new coach Gerard Gallant comes Friday morning at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs.

The team will practice through the weekend with a FanFest at the training facility Saturday and Sunday.

“I’m excited about getting back to work,” general manager Dale Tallon said last week. “This is a great time of year if you’re in the hockey business.”

Training camp

Friday10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Saturday10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Sunday10-11:15 a.m. (scrimmage 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m.)

All practices at Coral Springs IceDen

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