(This was originally published in the March 24 paper edition of St. Louis Game Time.)
I write this open letter to you, sir, to say some complicated things about your tenure as controlling owner of the St. Louis Blues. You wouldn't remember it, but we met once. It was the second free food game, a Sunday game against the Nashville Predators. You and your wife were handing out hot dogs. There were some video cameras and the Blues still photographer. You had a large smile; you were very good natured. It really was a pleasure to meet you that day in 2008. Mike Kitchen was off eating chicken wings, miles from St. Louis. Everything was trending up. I made a point to say thank you for all you had done for the franchise. I meant it then and I sincerely mean it now. You helped to keep the Blues in St. Louis after the basketball billionaire in Columbia decided to strip the franchise and dump it after the NBA spurned his money and St. Louis.
You're not from around here, and that's ok. We accepted you because you said the right things and did the right things. You brought in a charismatic and respected team president in John Davidson. You didn't immediately clean house with Kitchen and general manager Larry Pleau. But after given the chance to prove themselves, you acted and held them accountable, the coach quickly and the GM after a longer period of time. You worked to build relationships with the fans and brought people back to the arena. We joke about the name of this place calling it the Drinkscotch Center mainly because a lot of games we've seen here have driven us to that endeavor. But you've helped to make it a popular place to be again...regardless of how the team dumps rows of unsold seats to ticket brokers at large discounts to keep this season's sellout streak alive (it's our little secret).
We know you sir are not as wealthy as some of your fellow NHL owners. Take Mike Illitch for instance in Detroit. Millions of people have degraded their taste buds to the point that they can stomach Little Caesar's Pizza. It's made him a fortune that allows him to bankroll the Tigers and Red Wings. They have a private plane (that can get stuck in the mud in Cahokia), they spend to the salary cap in the NHL despite attendance challenges. His other businesses can fund his sports endeavors. I understand you're not actually the majority owner of the Blues. Your 20 percent is all that you can afford. When the Towerbrook group decided to pull out last May, I felt for you, sir. You and I both felt this team was close to being something special.
When you put the financing together for this team, you took a risk. You put your money on the fans coming back, the salary cap keeping expenses in check and the young talent in the system growing and maturing into a competitive team every night. Well we fans did come back. And the young talent has shown significant signs of that competitiveness even though the playoffs were a dream that ended weeks ago. But that damn salary cap...well the owners in place who negotiated the formula for that damn thing didn't count on one important fluctuation: the value of the American dollar vs. Canadian money. When the recession hit hard in the U.S. and less so up north, it meant that the salaries always negotiated in American money were worth a lot less to the Canadian teams. And the value of those franchises and the revenue they were bringing in when converted to American money shot up. Big time. I get it. No one could anticipate the cap rising significantly every single year. The current floor, where your team is resting, is above the first salary cap in 2005-06. In fact, the Blues' cap number is about $5 million over that first cap. That's not what you bargained for, which has made your operations more difficult than anticipated.
I know in 2008, a few months after I shook your hand, you sold the rights to concessions at Blues games to make a payment on the financing of the team. Free agents have been hard to come by the last few seasons after you made splashes by signing Jay McKee and Paul Kariya. Only two home playoff games in your tenure as owner hasn't helped either. In other words, sir, I understand you have reached the limit of what your arrangement and finances can allow. And instead of stringing us along and pretending you can pull this out of the fire, you are stepping aside and will welcome the latest owner in a history of numerous owners for this often-orphaned franchise. In all honesty, Blues fans have come to expect little else. Changing owners happens as often as the team changes uniforms.
I don't understand fans who have shown negative feelings toward you or your announcement last week. The way you're treating this situation is exponentially better than your predecessor. When you told local media, especially Bernie Miklasz at the Post-Dispatch, that you felt bad and had planned to own the Blues for many years to come, I believed you. I have a feeling you have tapped into the fanaticism that lives in the people who sit in the seats in your building. You've felt our passion, our enthusiasm, our rabid nature, our frustration, our expectations and our love for this team and this sport. We respect you for that, sir.
In closing, thank you for keeping this team in St. Louis. Thank you for making a damn hard run at fielding a good team. If you hear negative feelings from fans, it's frustration with this season and the unmet expectations of this team. I'm sure you can relate.