When the ECHL’s New Orleans Brass were launched in 1997, it was a big deal, not only in a city where ice – other than in sweet tea – is rare, but also in the African-American community, where interest in the sport is, unfortunately, also rare. As a franchise majority-owned by an African-American investment group – one that included New Orleans ex-mayor Ray Nagin – the Brass were billed as a landmark development in black business circles, garnering an article in the March 1998 issue of Black Enterprise.
Other partners in the ownership group included attorney Roy Rodney and political insider and entrepreneur Stan ‘Pampy’ Barre. Behind the scenes, the Brass were additionally funded by silent partner John Georges, a self-made multi-millionaire of Greek-American ancestry.
The Brass were a bold business venture as well since the Crescent City had little knowledge of hockey. In fact, when New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Peter Barrouquere was given the Brass beat, he was a novice to hockey. “I had seen four hockey games,” Barrouquere said. “I didn’t really know about it.”
But Barrouquere learned quickly, as did a sizeable chunk of the New Orleans sports fans. The team built a base of hardcore devotees who came in thousands to watch games at the Municipal Auditorium. The squad also found a fair amount of success on the ice, making the ECHL playoffs each of its five seasons, advancing to the third round in 1999 with a physical style of play that appealed to patrons who love New Orleans Saints football.
The team moved to the New Orleans Arena in 1999, but when the NBA’s Hornets arrived in 2002, the Brass became second fiddle. The costs of transforming the building’s floor from hardwood to ice and back proved too steep and the Brass failed to negotiate a long-term lease at the Auditorium, leaving the franchise without a place to play. Despite financial and on-ice success, the team had to fold.
Now, 10 years later, three of its former investors have run into trouble with federal authorities. In July 2008, Barre was sentenced to five years in prison for skimming more than $1 million from a city energy contract. A month later, Rodney got four months in the clink for failing to file tax returns, a charge that surfaced during investigations of the administration of then-mayor Marc Morial.
Nagin, meantime, who gained global recognition for his reaction to the Hurricane Katrina crisis, is now being investigated by a grand jury probing alleged gratuities he received from city vendors. – Ryan Whirty, The Hockey News, August 8, 2012