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Ciccarellis put Sarnia Sting up for sale

Sarnia Sting head coach Trevor Letowski behind the bench

There was big news in the Sarnia Observer on Friday. The Sarnia Sting have been put up for sale by the Ciccarelli family, who are apparently tired of losing money in their hometown.

The story might as well have read:

For Sale: One 20-year-old hockey franchise located in Sarnia, Ont. Currently a money pit, but still has very good investment potential. Haven't made the second round of the playoffs since 2007-08. Definite fixer-upper in desperate need of some hockey TLC. Price negotiable and could possibly include arena management if interested. Local buyer preferred.

The Sting have been languishing for years and, as a result, the fan base has eroded. Gone are the days when people would pay just to see the likes of Steven Stamkos skate in Sarnia. This year's team is second-last in the conference and three points out of the final playoff spot. They have a rookie head coach, Trevor Letowksi, himself a former Sting star, and a young team.

A dressing room with promise, but fans and ownership all out of patience. They have seen this rebuild many times before - under a wide variety of coaches - all fruitless endevours, save one division title, since the Ciccarellis moved the team from Newmarket, Ont., in 1994.

Adding to the financial issues faced by the team is the fact that the Ciccarellis also run the arena - another losing proposition.

The Ciccarellis are currently in discussions to turn over management of the RBC Centre back to the City of Sarnia.

The Sarnia Sports and Entertainment Centre, the name of the company that operates the arena and controlled by the Ciccarelli family, has been losing roughly $250,000 a year, Rob Ciccarelli told The Observer is a previous interview.

He said he and his brother were growing frustrated with the mounting losses on the ice and financially.

The owners have been operating the RBC Centre since 2005, and contributed more than $6 million into covering operating costs, Ciccarelli said.

During an interview last year, Ciccarelli said “The RBC Centre is a unique building where the operator pays for the principal payments and the interest payments … But because we're paying on a debt of $10 million, we're paying all the interest payments and principal payments, it's a significant challenge.”

He said at the time that the hockey club alone suffered about $1.4 million in losses in the previous four years. (Sarnia Observer)

According to Sarnia mayor Mike Bradley, local parties have already shown interest in potentially buying the club. The Ciccarellis have said in the past that they've turned down offers, so there's definitely a market - but whether or not the team stays in Sarnia remains to be seen. It's likely an easier sell, especially locally, if there's no attachment to the ongoing arena issue. As things stand now, Sarnia city council will meet to debate whether or not to take over the arena operations from the Ciccarellis.

City council is expected to have a report on the ownership of the Sarnia Sting and the operation of the RBC Centre on March 3. A few weeks later, council is expected to make a decision on taking over operation of the RBC Centre, and the possible closures of Germain Arena and the second RBC rink as ice surfaces.

Bradley admitted it will be a tight deadline to have all the information in place to make an informed decision.

"I'm not guaranteeing everything will be done on the 24th, especially with the complications of the sale of the team," he said. (Sarnia Observer)

Reading the city council's agenda, however, those complications become a little more clear. On page 195 of the Feb. 3, 2014 agenda, the viability of the RBC Centre without the Sting is called into question.

"If the Sarnia Sting leave our community, the potential for the RBC to close entirely is possible."

At present the city is already considering closing down the Germain Arena to save $250,000 year, justifying the closure by saying the ice time at the rink is "underused." Closing the RBC Centre would be drastic and shortsighted as it seats roughly 5,000 and is used for concerts, trade shows and is a hub for the community. A community that might be more inclined to rally around a new local owner with a clean slate.

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