SUNRISE, Fla. — The new owner of the Florida Panthers likes what he sees on and off the ice, especially when looking ahead.
“There’s a difference between losing money and making a long-term investment for the long term,” said Vincent Viola, introduced Friday as the Panthers new chairman and principal owner. “This is a long-term investment for the long term.
“Believe it or not, I don’t think business in terms of money. I think of it in terms of a product with value that’s enabled by creativity and effort. When those come together, money usually takes care of itself. I really believe that.”
Viola purchased the Panthers from longtime Panthers fan Cliff Viner and a group of investors for $250 million. He’ll also have the operating rights to the Broward County-owned BB&T Arena, where the Panthers’ lease runs through 2028. Viola friend Douglas Cifu will be vice chairman.
“All of the indications are that the future will be exceedingly bright,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “All of the speculation over the last few years about the future of this team, while it was unfounded at the time, it’s absolutely put to rest forever. Because under Vinny’s and Doug’s leadership, this team is all about winning here in South Florida.”
Viola, a Brooklyn native, is a ’77 West Point graduate and a former chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange. After the Sept. 11 attacks, he founded a center devoted to combating terrorism. He’s currently the chairman and CEO of Virtu Financial, one of the country’s leading in electron trading.
He stressed the importance of creating a family atmosphere committed to the relentless pursuit of success.
“We are firmly committed to South Florida,” he said. “My wife has commanded that we move here, so we’re moving here. You have her grandfather and her summers in Pompano to thank for that.
“We’re extremely, humbly committed to the purpose of the NHL. We understand the league’s philosophy around the protection and quality of its product and its commitment to its fans. We understand the fans are the be all and end all of every franchise. We will listen, we will react and we will serve your commitment to the team in a way that we hope will satisfy your fanship.”
Both Bettman and Viola disagreed with people who see the Panthers as a struggling franchise.
“This team had a 10-year drought in the playoffs, pretty long, and if you look at the core fan base that stood by this team that continued to make this team viable in this market, it was pretty impressive,” Bettman said. “I know there are plenty of teams in other places, some of them in cold climates, where when they’ve gone through prolonged droughts, didn’t have attendance as good as the Panthers had during their drought.”
Viola credited the previous ownership with running things “efficiently” and told Viner that during a phone call on Thursday.
“I said, ‘Cliff, you are the reason the Panthers are here and stable and well, and it’s not lost on me, and you will never be forgotten as a seminal owner of his franchise,'” Viola said. “Whatever we do from here is directly related to his efforts.”
Viola, a former minority owner of the then then-New Jersey Nets, officially took over the Panthers following a whirlwind, five-week process that began with a lunch with Bettman.
“I don’t think I’m being naive when I say it’s commitment to a process and relentless effort… relentless effort… and belief in that,” Viola said while wearing a Panthers jersey.
A New York Rangers fan since his youth, Viola gave up his season tickets two years before the team won the Stanley Cup in ’94. Now, he and youngest son Travis — a “clairvoyant hockey expert” — are all in on the Panthers.
Viola said he would rely on general manager Dale Tallon and coach Kevin Dineen to run the hockey side of things, with clear two-way communication and ownership’s commitment to provide the needed resources.
The Panthers missed the playoffs last year in a season shortened by a players lockout. But they seem to have a core of some good, young players.
“As a hockey fan, I was a fan of Dale Tallon the player,” Viola said. “When you’re a fan, you connect to champions, and Dale is a champion.”
Tallon appreciated the support.
“I’m excited about this opportunity. we’ve had great conversations,” Tallon said. “I’m inspired by Vinny and will fight like hell to win a Stanley Cup soon.”
Viola said his passion for hockey means he’ll be around the team often, but doesn’t mean he’ll venture into areas outside his expertise.
“My approach is to observe and learn,” Viola said. “I told both Dale and Kevin that Doug and I will be involved but respectful of the limits of our understanding of the game.
“We want to do everything we can do, and we will, and we will win here.”