By Dave Werstine
Long Beach Press Telegram
LONG BEACH, Calif. – If not for Steve Bash and his partners in Power Play Entertainment, Long Beach might have lost the Ice Dogs, the longest-running pro sports franchise in city history.
But Bash, the lead man in the recent purchase of the 10-year old team from former majority owner Barry Kemp and managing partner Rick Adams, doesn’t want to be seen as some kind of savior.
Visionary maybe, but certainly not a savior.
“We don’t want to be considered saviors. We consider ourselves as the new generation,” Bash said Tuesday afternoon. “Long Beach should be proud of having the Ice Dogs. I take great pride coming into the city, and I’m glad to be part of it.
“We think the Ice Dogs have great potential to provide Long Beach and the surrounding areas with great family entertainment. We want the community to know that it has a great pro sports team right here.”
Over his reign, Kemp lost more than $15 million on the team, and with attendance shrinking in recent years, it was speculated that the Ice Dogs would be moved to Ontario when a new arena was built, maybe within the next two to three years.
But instead of moving the team, Kemp, who had received other offers over the years, many that would have seen the team relocate, decided to sell the Ice Dogs to Power Play Entertainment which includes Bash, an L.A.-based attorney, Dr. Isaac Bash of L.A., and Chicago businessman Ted Foxman and keep the team in Long Beach.
It took nearly four months of negotiations with the Ice Dogs, SMG, which runs the Long Beach Arena, and the city to finally cement the deal, which was signed off over the past few days.
The newly signed lease is for five years, with an option for another five, meaning possibly another 10 years of hockey in the city.
“I think everyone wanted the same thing, and that was to keep the team in Long Beach,” said Bash, who will run day-to-day operations of the Ice Dogs. “That was our overall concern.
“Long Beach could have lost its longest-tenured pro team and probably would never have regained it. It’s the 35th largest city in the U.S. and that type of market deserves a pro team. It would have been a shame if it hadn’t worked out.”
And now there is a new generation of Ice Dogs.
But the new generation faces plenty of old problems.
The largest problem is that the Ice Dogs have been in the red financially since Kemp brought the team to Long Beach for the 1996-97 season.
Also, attendance has dipped in recent years. From a high of 193,064 in 1999-2000, the Ice Dogs have drawn less than 100,000 in two of the past three years, with a low of 88,865 last season.
“We did our due diligence and saw some aspects that weren’t too enticing,” Bash said. “What we saw (in terms of losses) were pretty overwhelming. ï¿½ But they are not insurmountable. It hasn’t been as bad the last few years. ï¿½ But we have a plan to fix it.”
At the same time, Bash saw plenty of positives.
While putting together a business plan, he saw a city in a renaissance and a market with lots of untapped resources, and in the end sold a visual concept on how to take the Ice Dogs into the black financially.
Bash plans on more exposure for the team, and more, different game-day fun for the fans. Also, at some point, he would like to bring boxing, mixed martial arts/ultimate fighting and youth hockey to the downtown arena.
“We’d like to offer a more diverse type of product because there is such a diverse community in Long Beach,” he said. “We want to bring the community to the arena.”
Bash and the new generation of Ice Dogs won’t yet let out all the changes they plan on making for the coming season, but they were enough to convince Kemp to sell the team and the city, which hired an independent firm to check out the new ownership group and was pleased with the findings, to support the sale.
“I think they took to us because of our game plan and vision,” Bash said, “and in particular because we wanted to keep the Ice Dogs in Long Beach.”