The Florida Panthers have a new owner in New York businessman Vincent Viola.
For Viola it was simple intuition to become Panthers owner after his lunch with NHL general commissioner, Gary Bettman, several weeks ago. It was a meeting set-up by mutual friend, and NBA commissioner, David Stern, who knew Viola from being the alternate governor of the NBA Board of Governors. Prior to becoming NHL commissioner, Bettman was senior vice-president and general counsel in the NBA.
The new owner said he has always felt like he had an intuition when it came to the sport of hockey. It started in 1963 when he began following the Rangers, becoming a season ticket holder as the years would progress. The love was passed on to his three sons, one of which dreamed of owning his own NHL team. In his statement to the team he said that he and wife had been planning on relocating to either Florida or Texas for retirement and south Florida won out making this a perfect fit for the Viola family, especially since it is also home to the NBA championship team, Miami Heat.
It came out in that he was behind the signing of Tim Thomas and made an extra effort to fly out and spend time with the goalie to see if he would be a right fit for his team. Panthers GM, Dale Tallon, is hoping that this is a sign of good things to come and that it will be a sign of good things to come for the franchise. His Gary Bettman’s statement he made sure to stress that this will put an end to any debate about the Panthers possibly relocating. Québec City is currently building an arena in hopes that the Nordiques make a return from a team with a small fanbase, like the Panthers.
“It was inspirational to hear how he came from nothing and made himself into who he is today, a pretty successful person,” forward Kris Versteeg said. “It’s exciting how excited he is about this organization and this team and it definitely gives all the players a little more bounce in their step when he talks about taking care of everyone and doing it the right way. It really gives us an extra bit of gas in the tank.”
The Panthers had previously been owned by a season-ticket holder, Cliff Viner, who became co-general partner in 2009 and later became sole general partner, CEO, and chairman of the board. Viola bought out Viner and his thirteen partners that included NFL quarterback Bernie Kosar. Through the purchase he will also own Sunrise Sports and Entertainment, which operates BB&T Center.
Viola said that he and business partner Doug Cifu don’t actually own anything. That it is all about the players, the fans, and their service to respective groups that will determine their success.
Viola grew up in Brooklyn, is a former chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange, and after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, founded a center devoted to combating terrorism.
Viola graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1977, was a major in the U.S. Army Reserves and is a graduate of New York Law School. He also has been involved with philanthropic projects and is a past winner of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
Viola is the chairman and CEO of Virtu Financial, an electronic trading firm with offices in the United States, Singapore and Ireland.
In the Panthers, he’s buying a franchise that has been to the Stanley Cup Playoffs only once since 2000 and finished with the fewest points in the NHL last season.
Doug Cifu, however, said, “Dale has promised me that my son, who’s now in fifth grade, will get the opportunity to not only see but hold the Stanley Cup by the time he’s in high school.”
If Viola and Cifu manage to build up a fanbase and Tim Thomas has as strong of a season as he has had in the past then Tallon’s promise may come to fruition.