Perfect Fit: Philanthropist Purchases Panthers
Another New Yorker in South Dade isn't news.
But when he buys the Florida Panthers, it gets some notice.
How much will determine the task ahead.
West Point graduate turned fast-track Wall Street trading mogul Vinny Viola isn't new to the sports business. He was a part owner of the Brooklyn Nets, his history shows he's a quick study, and his move for the Panthers encompasses more than just the team. Valued by Forbes at $170million, the Panthers were part of a $240million package that included the very profitable BB&T Center, which packs in the events all year 'round.
Note, though, that while the Cats call the BB&T home, the NBA Heat does not, and its own American Airlines Arena is a competitor for other events throughout the year. Given how Viola has turned previously unheralded Virtu into a player in the snakepit of electronic market making, he's got a sniper's shot at turning this south Florida venture into a decent deal.
Already a noted donor of means -- causes he established include the Catholic chair at Fordham University, the Counter-Terrorism Center at West Point, and the National Children's Educational Reform Foundation to benefit urban kids -- Viola will assume the reins of the Panthers' own charitable foundation.
And, while the Panthers themselves aren't technically a charity, the term profit is definitely alien to that organization.
Painfully, it starts with spending money, and Viola is off to a strong start. He's authorized GM Dale Tallon to sign that different drummer of a goalie, Tim Thomas, the formal announcement of which will occur in conjunction with that of the ownership change tomorrow. The league's Board of Governors must approve the transfer, but they'll fall all over themselves to do that.
Florida has had few shining moments in the NHL, so a shrewd investor like Viola is well aware that, with the league's gains in areas such as national sponsorships and targeted-demographic television ratings, an upswing in the near term is not out of the question.
Moving to greater Miami is not without its challenges, and Viola's found a huge one. He's got to energize a region loaded with snowbirds and locals whose only relationship with ice usually comes in a tumbler with an umbrella, even after 20 years of Panthers campaigns.
If the announcement of his arrival gets more than token notice, he'll already ahead of the game.