Canes, NC State in potentially costly dispute over use of PNC Arena

calexander@newsobserver.comMay 31, 2013 

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Chris Green, an employee of Poblocki, watches as the final touches are placed on the PNC Arena logo before its unveiling on Thursday March 15, 2012.

CASEY TOTH

— The Carolina Hurricanes could be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars by the NHL because of a scheduling conflict with N.C. State University over event dates at PNC Arena, Hurricanes president and general manager Jim Rutherford said Friday.

Gale Force Holdings, which owns the Hurricanes and operates the arena, has been at odds with the university’s athletic department for months over scheduling. A June 1 deadline for N.C. State to free up possible dates for the hockey games – as well as concerts, pro wrestling and other events – likely will not be met, Rutherford said.

“We do not have the dates,” he said Friday. “We have to have the dates (to the NHL) by June 1 or we will be fined for each date that we later change.”

The NHL releases its schedule in early July. If the dispute with N.C. State forces the Hurricanes to change game dates after the schedule is set, the league could fine the Canes $100,000 for each date that must be changed.

Under its agreement with Gale Force and the Centennial Authority, which oversees the arena, N.C. State has priority on scheduling dates in the arena. The Wolfpack plays its men’s basketball games in the arena, and football games at Carter-Finley Stadium necessitate the use of the shared parking lots.

Rutherford, in a May 14 letter to authority chairman Thomas McCormick, said the university was holding out 129 dates in a 214-day span for 23 basketball and football games. He said the “new restrictions that N.C. State is attempting to impose” severely limits Gale Force’s ability to book events.

In another letter, Rutherford noted N.C. State’s stance had caused the loss of one event, which would have netted about $170,000 for the arena.

An exchange of letters in the past few months, recently released by the Centennial Authority, reflects the tension between the Hurricanes and Wolfpack.

Rutherford, in a Sept. 24, 2012 letter to McCormick, said Gale Force had received a Sept. 6 letter from N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow and basketball coach Mark Gottfried. He said N.C. State’s position was that “we must grant them 100 percent priority over all dates at PNC Arena, without regard to the reasonableness of what is best for the Authority, the City, County, State, Gale Force, the Hurricanes or fans that wish to attend events.”

On Jan. 11, Rutherford wrote N.C. State chancellor Randy Woodson about the letter from Yow and Gottfried. He noted McCormick had met with Gale Force and N.C. State about the scheduling issues, and that PNC Arena general manager Davin Olsen had met with Yow and other athletic department officials.

Rutherford wrote in the letter that Yow had sent an email that day to Olsen that said “further attempts to resolve this issue with the Athletic Department will be futile.”

Rutherford wrote that Yow’s stance, as stated in the email, could negatively affect the “viability of hockey in this market.” He wrote that Gale Force absorbs any operating deficits in the arena, noting that it had been $1 million to $2 million a year, saying N.C. State’s position could raise those costs by an additional $10 million a year.

Woodson replied in a May 9 letter to McCormick, saying N.C. State had made a number of “significant concessions” to Gale Force in 2013 and other years, such as freeing up dates each February for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Giving up that time frame, he said, results in a “competitive disadvantage” for the Wolfpack, in that it would play two or three consecutive ACC road games.

Woodson had said the university has little additional flexibility because of the “realities of college basketball scheduling,” noting decisions made by television partners.

Woodson noted another concession made by the university was changing the starting time of the Wolfpack’s April 20 spring football game. He said it was moved up to 1:30 p.m. and a planned autograph session canceled so that the parking lots would be freed up by 3:30 p.m. for the Hurricanes’ 7 p.m. game.

On May 14, Rutherford wrote McCormick saying, “Moving forward, because we have been told by the N.C. State athletic department that it will not be as flexible as previous administrations, the number of events will be significantly reduced as more shows will skip PNC Arena due to the lack of available dates.”

Yow, contacted last week, declined to comment on the scheduling conflicts. She said the letter sent by Woodson to the authority outlined the university’s position.

Woodson said Friday night before N.C. State's NCAA regional baseball game, “I feel confident we'll work this out. We always have.” The chancellor said N.C. State's problem was that the school had not received its basketball dates from the ACC. “We're in a holding pattern because we do not know what our schedule is,” he said.

Of the university's working relationship with Gale Force and the Hurricanes, Woodson said, “It's been good. We've shared the facility for 13 years.” McCormick could not be reached Friday.

Rutherford said he has met with Woodson, saying it was a “very good meeting.” He said he is hopeful such issues can be avoided in the future.

“We’re hoping to reach a reasonable understanding,” he said.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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