Six Wild employees might lose jobs

Updated: August 26, 2004, 6:00 PM ET
Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With no resolution to a labor standoff between the NHL and its players in sight, the Minnesota Wild's parent company has started preparing for a handful of layoffs.

Minnesota Sports & Entertainment has met with some of its 225 employees to discuss the layoffs. About six workers could lose their jobs, and Pam Wheelock, MSE's senior vice president, said Thursday that nonunion employees at all levels would see an impact on their wages.

Over the last six weeks, the league and the NHLPA have held three negotiating sessions which have not brought the two sides any closer to labor peace. The next talks will take place over two days next week in Ottawa, then resume Aug. 30 and Sept. 1 in Montreal, the site of World Cup of Hockey games on those nights.

If a new collective bargaining agreement isn't reached by Sept. 15, a season-threatening lockout will be imposed.

Wheelock said more than 97 percent of the company's employees would be retained during a lockout. Including the Wild's AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros, MSE has about 225 full-time employees, most of whom aren't represented by a union. That means about six employees or so will face temporary or permanent layoffs. Wheelock said there was no one category of employees being targeted.

"The individual meetings are going on basically as we speak," Wheelock said.

As for the wage reductions, Wheelock declined to give specific numbers, saying only it would affect employees at all levels.

"Not necessarily equally," she added.

A season-long lockout would wipe out about 40 regular-season home games at Xcel Energy Center, which is operated by MSE.

On average, Wheelock said MSE pays about $7.7 million a year to rent the Xcel arena, although the number is closer to $7 million this year. Asked how much a lockout would hamper MSE's ability to pay the rent, Wheelock said: "We'll make the payments. I think that's probably all I can say."

Without hockey, the company has been considering ideas to keep the building operational, MSE and Wild spokesman Bill Robertson said, although they likely won't generate revenue.

Some of those ideas include open skating for season tickets holders, town hall meetings, Wild coaching staff clinics and youth hockey games. In addition, the Xcel Center hosts about 120 non-game events a year, Wheelock said, and MSE recently purchased a National Lacrosse League team that will begin play in the arena in December.

"The good news for us is, unlike a lot of other clubs, we are an organization that recognizes that while hockey is a core part of our business, we have other parts to our business as well," Wheelock said.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press