By Chris Roberts
By Joe Eskenazi
By Albert Samaha
By Mike Billings
By Rachel Swan
By Erin Sherbert
By Joe Eskenazi
By Albert Samaha
You can, however, count the nearly 100 properties in downtown London alone owned by Farhi's holding corporation, which controls about 4 million square feet of real estate and is valued at upward of $600 million. Farhi declined to specify exactly how much he's sunk into the Bulls. But if he wants permission from his company's chairman of the board to spend a bit lavishly on the team, that shouldn't be a problem. Because it's his dog. And she loves Pat, too.
Curcio has needed the money. Replacing the Cow Palace's ice system, an estimated $100,000 job, swelled into an engineering ordeal costing more than seven times that. After spending $1 million and change on a new scoreboard, Curcio discovered it would cost more than a quarter of a million dollars to install the necessary electrical infrastructure to power it. The Colosseo company can actually run the board remotely from its headquarters in Slovakia, notes Curcio, and even shut it off. This, he says, provides an impetus to make payments on schedule.
Wandering through the stadium last month, Curcio rattles off a litany of unforeseen costs: TV lights — a surprise $86,000 expense. Giant tarps covering surplus seating — $30,000. Netting preventing errant shots from maiming fans — $7,000. As the money poured into the Cow Palace added up, Curcio lost several reticent minority owners. He and Elouise sold a hefty chunk of the team to Farhi, who now holds roughly 40 percent of the franchise; Farhi's Bulls business card simply reads "owner." Getting the team this far has required more than $5 million.
"Great time to sell season tickets!" reads a November entry on the timeline Bulls CEO Joe Wagoner has scrawled onto the otherwise bare white walls of his office (the entry for Sept. 21-23, the Exotic Erotic Ball, reads "Sex People @ Cow Palace."). Wagoner had an odd icebreaker earlier this year when interviewing with Curcio: "I don't know shit about hockey." But that's just what Curcio wanted. He didn't need someone meddling in on-ice matters, and Wagoner didn't need someone lecturing him about promotions or sponsorships. The two even moved into a San Francisco apartment together, a stone's throw from the Cow Palace parking lot; they'll grunt hellos to one another at 4 or 5 in the morning when Wagoner quits working and goes to bed and Curcio rises and starts working.
Like all minor-league teams, the Bulls aren't just selling sports — they're selling entertainment. Wagoner's ideas on how to deliver the latter tend to the distinctive. When he was working for the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the now-defunct United Football League, nonprofit workers were outfitted in padded suits. They were then given a five-second head start to run as far as they could through the end zone and onto the field before a trained attack dog was released. The more yards they ran before being taken out, the more money was donated to their charities. Fans of the Sioux Falls Canaries baseball team, Wagoner reminisces, were invited to bet on how many balloons it would take to levitate a 3-year-old in a folding chair. The answer: 130 — and "Thank God we had her tethered down, because no one was paying attention when she started to go up." He grins: "That would be totally illegal in California."
Outside Wagoner's office, a phalanx of Bulls employees in black-and-orange team polo shirts are in perpetual motion. Ticketing manager Raudel Wilson makes upward of 50 cold calls a day — and there have been strikes and gutters. "We tried to get payment for your season tickets from two different credit cards," Wilson informs a customer over the phone. "Neither worked." Wilson nods and makes affirmative sounds. "Will either of these cards be good for $656 today?" He nods again. "Okay, what about tomorrow?" Wilson smiles. "Good! Should we try in the morning or afternoon?"
There's a late September chill in the air at 8 a.m. in the Cow Palace's vast parking lot. Several score of large men hoist gargantuan bags from their cars and waddle through the stadium's front doors. There, they sign a waiver reading, "I AM AWARE THAT THESE ACTIVITIES ARE HAZARDOUS ACTIVITIES AND THAT I COULD BE SERIOUSLY INJURED OR EVEN KILLED." Then they're handed a jauntily colored hockey jersey.
Some of these men, shelling out $225 in an attempt to play their way onto the Bulls during this year's open tryouts, were bagging groceries the day before. There's a TSA agent, a Utah landscaper who says the best thing about making the club would be escaping Utah, and 38-year-old active Navy man Doug Homis — who sports the build Pablo Sandoval will surely sport at 38. "Oh, I got a one-in-600 chance," says Homis with a grin. "But I can bash heads and protect the younger guys."
These 62 working stiffs face long odds in attempting to break onto a pro squad two rungs below its parent club, the San Jose Sharks; the Bulls are the hockey equivalent of a Double-A baseball club. Amateurs' chances are rendered even more infinitesimal by the ongoing NHL lockout, which has created a trickle-down effect. With NHL-caliber players joining minor-league teams, talent is pushed downward at each rung of pro hockey to the detriment of on-the-bubble professionals.
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