MOSCOW, March 25 (R-Sport) - Known for its big-money signings of NHL stars such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Russia's SKA St. Petersburg hockey club is now seeking to reduce its dependence on Gazprom, the state gas company that has made it an Eastern European giant.
This season, the club has earned 500 million rubles ($14 million), it's vice-president for marketing and business development Roman Rotenberg said. That is less than half of what the club spends on players' payroll, according to figures from the KHL league office.
The club's financial backer Gazprom has historically made up budget shortfalls and provided funds to sign stars like Kovalchuk, who joined from the NHL's New Jersey Devils last year.
"If last season we earned 300 million, and this season we're already earning 500 million rubles, then you can calculate that in three or four years' time, we will be able to earn 1.5 billion rubles," said Rotenberg on the club website.
"Then we'll be able to cover the salaries of our players and of our office and enter self-sufficiency, which is in principle possible in our country."
Gazprom's last recorded financial injection to SKA came with a payment of 684 million rubles ($19.1 million) in December from its oil arm, Gazprom Neft. The company said it was for "sponsorship," although the sum appears to be well above market rate.
According to KHL figures, SKA had a payroll of 1.27 billion rubles ($35.5 million) as of September, around 20 percent more than any other club in the 28-team, eight-country league. League payroll figures exempt certain so-called "star players from NHL" such as Kovalchuk, meaning SKA's true salary total could be far higher.
KHL teams' incomes and outgoings remain far below those in the NHL, where the salary cap is $64.3 million for this season. The salary cap in the NHL is calculated in proportion with league revenues, which the NHL has said it expects to top $3.3 billion this season across its 30 teams.
For one of the KHL's best-funded clubs, SKA has underperformed drastically, failing to make the Gagarin Cup Finals in the competition's five-year history. SKA is currently locked at two wins apeice with Lokomotiv Yaroslav in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinalist series. Game five is Wednesday.
SKA has never won a Soviet or Russian hockey title.