GREENVILLE, SC – The Greenville Swamp Rabbits announced today that the organization has been purchased by a new multi-member ownership group led by Steve Donner and have taken the controlling interest of the ECHL club. The sale was completed with previous owner Fred Festa’s company Chestnut Street Sports, LLC and has been approved by the ECHL’s Board of Governors in a unanimous decision. The new ownership group, South Carolina Pro Hockey, LLC, has also negotiated a contract extension with the Bon Secours Wellness Arena for the next three seasons.
“On behalf of the ECHL Board of Governors, I would like to welcome the new ownership group,” ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna said. “We are excited by their plans for the market. We would like to thank Fred for his considerable efforts on behalf of the Swamp Rabbits and the ECHL.”
In conjunction with the purchase, Donner has taken over operation of the club from President and General Manager Chris Lewis and will locally control the Swamp Rabbits hockey team as President and CEO of the South Carolina based ECHL franchise. As the new President of the club, Donner has already established a permanent residence in Greenville with his wife and children.
“There are a few key messages that we want to send out to the Greenville community,” said Donner regarding the organization’s future. “First, the team is staying in Greenville. As owners, we believe in the market and are excited to have extended our lease with the arena. Second, as leader of the ownership group, I am immediately taking residence in Greenville. Being a part of the Swamp Rabbits was both a business opportunity and a quality of life opportunity for my family. We are excited to be here and become a part of the Greenville community.”
The Swamp Rabbits are offering fans the chance to meet the Swamp Rabbits new owner at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena this week. Donner will be at Greenville’s Saturday night game for introductions on the concourse and season ticket holders have a chance to participate in a meet and greet in a “town hall format” with Donner before Sunday afternoon’s home game.
“We want to show (Greenville) that we are going to be a relationship organization moving forward,” Donner continued. “Fun and entertainment will be a big part of our focus here. We want to be a competitive organization both on and off the ice, striving for championships and surrounding the team with a very entertaining atmosphere in the building.”
The first item of business by the new ownership group was to extend the team’s lease with the Bon Secours Wellness Arena. The two parties have come to an agreement to extend the lease through the 2020-21 season, keeping hockey in The Upstate. The Swamp Rabbits new ownership group is “excited to have worked with Bon Secours Wellness Arena General Manager Beth Paul on adjustments that will benefit both the arena and the Swamp Rabbits organization in building the team’s business model for future success.”
The new lease also represents a true partnership opportunity between the arena, the team, and the upstate community.
“We are excited to continue our partnership with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits,” says General Manager of Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Beth Paul. “We have a strong relationship with the team and look forward to continuing that with the new team ownership. Hockey is a great asset to Greenville and to the arena and we look forward to many more winning seasons with the Swamp Rabbits.”
“Advancing the lease was ultimately important to us,” said Donner. “We didn’t buy the team as a relocation opportunity. We bought the team as a great opportunity in Greenville and wanted to make a statement. The best way to prove that is to commit to a multi-year lease with both the building and the community.”
Donner is no stranger to success in professional hockey and has over 27 years of experience in professional sports. The Rochester, New York native served as team owner, president and CEO of the AHL’s Rochester Americans for 13 years from 1995 to 2008. Donner’s early efforts were rewarded in 1996 for his contributions to the league, earning recognition as the most outstanding executive through the James C. Hendy Memorial Award. The Amerks went on to capture the 1997 Calder Cup Championship that season, one of ten championships that Donner has been a part of throughout his career.
Prior to his work in Rochester, Donner was the Vice President of Marketing and Sales for the Tampa Bay Lightning during the inaugural season of the NHL franchise. He helped improve the organization and build its average attendance from 10,000 fans in the inaugural season of 1992, to over 22,000 fans in the club’s second season. Since his tenure with the Americans, Donner has been a part of multiple ventures in Florida including the start-up of the Orlando City Soccer Club.