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Business before pleasure: Wranglers owner willing to sell

The Wranglers today are like a home ready to be shown to interested buyers, but not yet listed.

There’s no sign on the front lawn, but the broker doesn’t have any problem whispering to others about the availability.

“It’s not that hard to find me,” owner Charles Davenport said. “If there are people out there who want to buy the team, I’ll be happy to listen. I’m not trying to bail out, that’s for sure.

“I would be stupid not to listen to anyone who wants to talk.”

Amid countless rumors of external curiosity about purchasing the local ECHL team, there seems to be more than a morsel of interest from Davenport to sell after six seasons in Las Vegas.

You don’t purchase a minor league sports team to make money during the time you’re calling the shots. To have a nice tax write-off, yes. To fill your pockets, no.

Only a few ECHL franchises — primarily ones that own and operate their own arenas — have bottom lines drawn in black ink.

“At the end of the day, (Davenport) is not going to turn his back on a potential profit,” team president Billy Johnson said. “That’s truly the way you make money owning a minor league sports team. If he can find value in flipping it, it would be wise to do so.”

Davenport on Friday said minor league sports are quirky at best, a fantasy world where adults get to live and play like kids.

He loves hockey. Loves watching games. Loves being around the team when he makes the journey from his home in San Diego. Loves offering an affordable form of entertainment to families in a charming setting like the Orleans Arena.

He’s also a businessman.

You hear there are local investors interested in owning the team, but such desire often comes from people with big dreams and little sense of how difficult it can be running and paying for things. Fresno. Augusta. Louisiana. Columbia (S.C.). Pensacola. All are ECHL franchises that folded in the last five years under local ownership.

You hear talk of corporate interest in town, which at least would bring more stability than a group of boosters who think they can make daily decisions better than current management.

You hear NHL teams out West want their American Hockey League affiliates in closer proximity and that Las Vegas is an attractive location for many, but a higher level of AHL player also could bring higher ticket prices in a market unwilling to pay, which ultimately could cost the town hockey forever.

Look, there is a reason the Wranglers always have promoted atmosphere over winning. There are too many variables at this level — AHL call-ups throughout the season, injuries — to promise consistent success.

The fact Las Vegas managed three consecutive 100-point seasons before this year’s roller-coaster ride is more about having a terrific coach/general manager in Glen Gulutzan than anything else. People who are upset there won’t be a fourth don’t grasp what the ECHL is about.

Consider: Near the end of an eight-game winning streak this season, the Wranglers in a matter of days lost 10 players to call-ups and injuries, leaving them with a bench of 11 bodies during the 0-6-4 stretch that followed. They suited up a pharmaceutical salesman, a kid who had been working in a pro shop the last three years, a kid who hadn’t played in 18 months. That’s Double-A hockey.

“We promise to remain entertaining and do things outside the box and ask our fan base to support these kids getting to the next level,” Johnson said. “That is the dream we have always sold.”

Whether Davenport sells the team is a question based on countless factors. These aren’t great times for anyone. Any potential buyer without ties to The Orleans would be looking at a deal in which profits come from ticket sales and sponsorship, areas not flourishing in the current economy.

But it’s out there. He’s not going to hang up on potential shoppers. It’s an unsettling thought. The Wranglers run things well. They’re competent and entertaining and tremendously viable at this level in this city.

Change at the top could alter those truths.

“(Davenport) gives you everything to succeed and leaves you alone,” Gulutzan said. “What else could you ask for? He’s a first-class guy. This isn’t about ego for him. He just likes the inner-workings of the game and being around it.

“But it’s a business. He’s going to do what he’s going to do. If the price is right, he’s going to sell.”

There is no sign on the front lawn yet.

But at this point, the listing might be mere formality.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at 702-383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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