“We werenâ€™t asking for handouts â€“ we just wanted to keep some of our own revenue that we were generating.â€
LGA:Â On a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being extremely difficult and 10 being extremely easy) how was the city of Rochester to work with regards to the War Memorial lease?
Donner:Â â€œA rating is tough.Â Maybe a 3-4 â€¦ overall.Â Johnson was better to work with.Â His administration was more like a 5-7.Â Also the County Executive at the time was good to work with â€“ Jack Doyle.Â After Johnson, an extraordinarily hard line was taken. There were a lot of politics going on behind the scenes. Â They weren’t going to not appease the only billionaire in town. Â The only way to keep up was a better lease.Â The city said no. Â Â If you look around, how do you think Utica got a team back?Â Binghamtonâ€¦they got a sweet heart of lease.Â Those communities want theirÂ team.Â You know, we werenâ€™t asking for handouts â€“ we just wanted to keep some of our own revenue that we were generating.â€
â€œIn the beginning, profits were invested 100% back into the team.Â Becauseâ€¦.pride in the city and to win championships.Â Even the first several seasons of the K-hawks, the profits made there were invested back into the Amerks to sign veteran players.Â But with players costs escalating like we discussed (for both teams) the Amerks started losing $50k – $200k every year. Thatâ€™s even with the success we had on the ice.Â With the city, we shared ad revenue, shared suite revenue, paid $1 surcharge to them for every ticket sold â€¦.. and had no other revenue streams.Â No parking, no concessions.Â It always felt like one step forward, two steps backâ€
LGA:Â Did you ever consider, threatening at least, to move the team?
Donner:Â â€œConsidered shutting down temporarily, but not moving, no.Â And people advised me to only go down that road if I was serious â€“ and I decided not to.â€
LGA:Â Is it true that before the renovation the city offered you the choice of the renovation OR a small cut of concessions?
Donner:Â â€œNo, there was no choice.Â We were never going to get concessions then.â€
LGA:Â Did the renovation/expansion go as you envisioned? Â Â And in hindsight, do you think itâ€™s too big?
Donner: â€œ It was necessary.Â Itâ€™s very difficult to attract todayâ€™s fans to an old barn.Â It was great in many ways.Â Fan amenities, suites, the lobby, increase in bathrooms.â€
â€œThe capacity is a positive/negative thing.Â It needed to be bigger for concerts and other events.Â Itâ€™s great for group salesÂ But on the negative side, an empty looking building doesnâ€™t generate excitement.Â Thatâ€™s bad for business.Â Marriot at the time actually wanted a 15k building.Â The Court St. end would have looked like the Broad St end.â€
â€œIn the end – we never got a kick out of the renovation that we would have from a brand new building.â€
LGA:Â Wasnâ€™t there talk of a lounge/overlook on the Broad St. side instead of all those seats?
Â Donner: â€œNot on the Broad St. end.Â There were talks of something like that where the upper atrium is nowâ€¦and also where the two suites on the Court St. end are.Â When that fell through we at least got suites put in there.â€
Â LGA:Â The talk of complimentary tickets (comps) and pricing came up:
Â Donner:Â â€œThe ticket price balance was hard.Â It was always challenging to find the right financial model.Â Comps can devalue but I had sponsors to keep happy.Â A full building is better for them, itâ€™s better for the fan experience and itâ€™s better for the players.Â Do you TRY and sell 5k at $15/each or 8k at $9/each?Â One model is certainly to squeeze as much as you can out of your core fans who are your main revenue source.Â Thatâ€™s not what I did.Â The number of comps were not as large as was reported. Â Group promotions to sponsors, who had really paid in packages, were comped.
Â LGA:Â This is a tough question, but do you feel like the Rhinos and K-Hawks ended up hurting the Amerks.
Donner: “Well, we had a lot on our plate, but that didn’t hurt the Amerks.” Â The K-hawksâ€¦No. Â The Rhinosâ€¦much tougher answerâ€¦ in some ways. Â They werenâ€™t a financial drain on the Amerks in any way, but the Amerks public perception was put at risk when the Rhinos stadium loans defaulted. Â People could use those debts against the Amerks when issues surrounding the Amerks were discussed.”
Â Â LGA:Â Do you wish you had signed an affiliation agreement with Tampa back in ’03?
Â Donner:Â â€œIt was ready to go and I still had a relationship with Tampa from my years there.Â Jay Feaster and I had a deal worked out.Â The only thing that was going to stop that was if Golisano were to buy the Sabres.Â I had already told The Hamisters I was switching to Tampa.Â And it looked like they were buying the team.Â When Golisano ended up buying the team I was surprised but had to give the affiliation a chance to succeed.Â I had toâ€¦for WNY.Â It was a tough call to Feaster but I just had to give it a chance.Â Golisano was local and had resources.Â Well, as it turned out his ownership groupÂ wanted to cut costs in every way.Â I probably should have made the switch sooner than we did.â€
LGA:Â Did Golisano ever offer to buy the Amerks?
Donner:Â â€œA serious offer was never made. Â It really felt as though they wanted the Amerks solely as a marketing tool.Â They needed the Rochester market for the Buffalo Sabres.Â And it didnâ€™t need to be that way.â€
LGA:Â We read about Amerk debts in the paper.Â Is it true Curt Styres paid those off?
Donner:Â â€œYes, he cleaned up some operation payables. Â And they were never to the extentÂ that were speculated. Â Most AHL teams were in similar situationsâ€¦or worse. ”
The finale, part IV, should be online tomorrow……