Abe Pollin said yesterday that unless his Washington Capitals nearly double their season ticket sales, sell out Capital Centre for their first 10 games this season and gain tax relief from Prince George's County--all within 30 days--the team will be sold or folded.
If these conditions are met, Pollin said, he would, with the help of at least four new investors, continue operating the financially troubled National Hockey League team, which reportedly has lost about $20 million since its birth in 1974.
Calling his terms "fair and certainly achievable," Pollin, at a news conference yesterday at Capital Centre, outlined four steps for salvaging the hockey team.
* The team must sell 7,500 season tickets, up from 4,200 last season.
* Enough single-game tickets (approximately 85,000) must be sold to guarantee sellouts for the team's first 10 home games this season.
* The rent for Capital Centre must be lowered from 15 to 10 percent of the net after taxes. This is subject to approval by the Equitable Life Assurance Co., which holds the bond on the arena, owned by Pollin.
* The current 10 percent amusement tax levied by Prince George's County must be reduced to one-half of 1 percent. This would apply only to the Capitals, not to other events in the building, and would be gradually increased after four years.
If all the conditions are met, Pollin said, he would retain 50 percent ownership, and the new investors would buy the other half. If the conditions are not met, Pollin said, the Capitals would be sold and moved to another city, merged with another team and moved, or disbanded.
The prospective investors are area businessmen Richard Patrick, Jim Lewis and Marty Irving, who are partners in a Virginia real estate firm called Tycon Development, and Albert Turner of Carrollton Enterprises in Maryland.
According to Patrick, "There are other investors who will be involved, too, besides the four here today, other groups who will join in." Patrick declined to identify the others, but said he had met with their representatives.
Pollin said Patrick would work with him on all hockey matters if the deal is completed. "He'll help to put the team into the playoffs," he said.
Patrick, an attorney, is the only potential investor with a hockey background. His father Muzz once coached the New York Rangers, and his cousin Craig is that team's general manager. Richard Patrick played hockey at Dartmouth, and for the old Washington Chiefs.
"We're interested mostly from a business standpoint," he said. "We became aware of the fan support groups, and I feel we represent a portion of the business community."
Patrick would not discuss the team's financial condition, saying only, "If everything falls into line, we're willing to put money into it." Pollin's reported asking price for the team is $7.5 million.
According to sources, Patrick's input into the operation will be significant. He said, "What I expect to do is assist (Pollin) in the evaluation of the operation."
For each of the first 10 games, the Capitals will have to sell 9,450 tickets at $12.50, 4,740 at $10.50 and 2,470 at $7. Including another 1,470 seats in "special seating," sky suites and portal boxes, a sellout is 18,130.
The Prince George's County Council, an 11-member group, will consider Pollin's request for tax relief, which also will be subject to the approval of County Executive Lawrence Hogan. Hogan has said he would consider that measure.
Last season the Capitals paid the county $268,000 in amusement taxes.
Other NHL franchises pay amusement taxes that "run all over the map in percentages," according to Brian O'Neill, the league's executive vice president.
"I believe 10 percent is the highest, at least I don't know of any (that pay) over it," he said. O'Neill refused to discuss specifically how Pollin's suggested one-half of 1 percent tax would compare with those of other teams.
"Some pay 5, 6, 7, 10 percent; I believe there are some that don't pay any," he said, but declined to identify them.
John Ziegler, NHL president, could not be reached for comment on Pollin's proposals.
Reduction of the Capital Centre rent, now approximately $560,000 a year, requires the consent of Equitable Life. Ralph Fletcher, vice president of corporate finance of that company, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Should all of Pollin's conditions be fulfilled, he will retain the presidency of the Capitals and control of the club as its general partner. The team would become a limited partnership, not a corporation.
Pollin admitted yesterday that last season's attendance figures "that you heard reflected as the total attendance did not reflect the full price (in dollars)." The Capitals' reported average attendance was 11,378, a number diluted by giveaways or cut-rate tickets.
Pollin said he had heard complaints from season ticket holders about that practice. "As of now, that situation is ended," he said.
He was asked about the future of his other professional sports team, the Bullets of the National Basketball Association. "The state of the Bullets is fine," he said. "The losses of the Capitals were tremendous. The Bullets' (losses) are not nearly as much."
Art Kaminsky, the New York agent-attorney who represents a New York group interested in buying the Capitals, said yesterday his group remains interested in buying the team from Pollin.
Pollin said problems "became insurmountable last year to the point where we could no longer keep losing millions of dollars." He said he attempted to find a buyer, but none came foward. There were inquiries to buy the team and move it, he said, but then things started to happen. "Fans started writing and calling, proving to me the Caps can stay."
In response to a question regarding the financing agreement that seemed to tie the Capitals and Bullets to the Centre at least through the year 2000, Pollin said, "Agreements are made with the best of intentions . . ."
On a positive note, he said, "I want to get the team financially viable and competitive on the ice. And to win the Stanley Cup."
These are the 10 games Pollin says must be sold out within 30 days as one of the conditions for the Capitals' survival:
Oct. 9, Saturday--Philadelphia Flyers
Oct. 16, Saturday--Buffalo Sabres
Oct. 20, Wednesday--Montreal Canadiens
Oct. 23, Saturday--Minnesota North Stars
Nov. 5, Friday--St. Louis Blues
Nov. 7, Sunday--Hartford Whalers
Nov. 10, Wednesday--New Jersey Devils
Nov. 13, Saturday--New York Islanders
Nov. 16, Tuesday--Calgary Flames
Nov. 26, Friday--Toronto Maple Leafs.