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Two Months to Save The Wheeling Nailers

Brooks brothers willing to sell the franchise at a loss

January 20, 2012
By SHAWN RINE Sports Editor , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING - The Wheeling Nailers are for sale, and there's less than two months remaining to salvage next season, which would be the 21st in the Friendly City.

That's the word from Nailers co-owner Jim Brooks, who officially broke the news during a press conference Thursday at WesBanco Arena.

Brooks said he and brother Rob, who did not attend, informed other ECHL owners and league management of their intentions Wednesday at the Board of Governors meeting. The Brooks brothers have until "sometime in March" to find new owners or the team will cease operations, or go dark, following this season.

Article Photos

A tearful Jim Brooks, co-owner of the Wheeling Nailers hockey team, speaks during a press conference at WesBanco Arena on Thursday afternoon.

However, Jim Brooks said he doesn't think the deal has to be finished by that point. As he understands it, the brothers only need to have a group in place to take in front of the board for consideration.

Jim Brooks said the price for purchasing the Nailers will be in the "mid-six figures," considerably less than the $1.2 million the brothers paid for the team nine years ago. That, he said, is in an effort to ensure the team remains in the Ohio Valley.

"It's affordable," Jim Brooks said. "It's good for people that are out there thinking about it - hopefully waiting and watching these reports, to know that it is affordable.

"What's really on our side, too, is we're not a huge market to where the costs are way out of whack and you need to drive revenues to a level that some of these markets in our league and other leagues may have," he continued. "From that perspective, your risk high and low is a lot smaller than some of these larger markets. That was something that was really appealing to Rob and I when we came here."

Jim Brooks, who became emotional several times while making the announcement, reiterated what was already known. This decision has nothing to do with finances or perceived hard feelings between the brothers and both WesBanco Arena and Wheeling officials. Rather, it's a matter of there not being enough time to go around.

The Brooks brothers are the owners of the American Hockey League's Adirondack Phantoms and are in the midst of building a new state-of-the-art arena for that team in Allentown, Pa. That, Jim Brooks said, is about to take up more time than the duo anticipated.

"We're really spread thin as far as time and are trying to find more hours in the day," Brooks said. "It's obviously something we thought about.

"You can try to keep things quiet until the end of the season, but what's your purpose there? Is it just to get a couple of gate receipts? Our goal is to get somebody else in here - we need a torchbearer for the future. That is our focus now."

With Rob Brooks living in Florida and Jim Brooks planning to move to Allentown this summer, it became apparent that a decision had to be made. Why it was the Nailers getting axed, rather than another team the brothers have stakes in, was a matter of the percentage of shares the duo holds.

"This one we're (involved in) day-to-day operations," Jim Brooks said. "Our ownership in the Pirates, the Penguins and the Texas Rangers, we're not. So when you do something day-to-day you're actively involved and committed to it. That's really what it came down to for us."

When asked whether continuing to own the team but allowing Vice President of Business Operations Craig Bommer to run it was a consideration, Jim Brooks said the brothers simply can't go half-in on something.

"From our standpoint, we're very passionate people and we feel like we've got to be involved," he said. "We talked about it, but it was more of a decision about us. We feel that for us to be involved in something we've got to be totally engaged in here."

Jim Brooks said he has already been contacted by a couple of interested parties, but noted it is far too early in the process to know how serious they are. The parent Pittsburgh Penguins, though, have said they are willing to do whatever is necessary to keep the team in Wheeling.

"The Penguins have been great supporters," he said. "I had a conversation with Pittsburgh a couple days ago, and they're very supportive of getting a local group in, or at least for the team to stay here.

"It's a good situation for them and they've got a lot of player development, coach development, etc., through here," he added. "They said they would be willing to go so far as meeting with some of these prospective groups when that time came."

Jim Brooks believes the Wheeling market is still a viable one, and said that he and his brother, as well as their father Robert Brooks Sr. and Bommer, will have a hand in the negotiations in one form or another.

"We kind of have in our minds a couple (of groups) we're going to make a call to. We have a great story to tell," Jim Brooks said. "It was a great place for us for nine years, and we hope it's a great place for someone else for a long time. We know that there are people interested."

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