Viola's 'Intuition' Led Him To Panthers Ownership
SUNRISE, Fla. -- New York businessman Vincent "Vinnie" Viola said it simply was intuition that led him to become owner of the Florida Panthers.
Viola was introduced Friday morning as the Panthers' chairman, principal owner and governor at a press conference at BB&T Center. He was accompanied by his business partner, Douglas Cifu, as well as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
It was a lunch meeting with Bettman weeks ago that Viola said led to his purchase of the Panthers. The meeting with Bettman was set up by NBA Commissioner David Stern, who knew Viola from his role as an alternate governor on the NBA Board of Governors.
"I had this intuition about the Panthers and I was starting to watch the team at the end of last year and I had this intuition about hockey," Viola said. "It was really by intuition that it happened. I would never think I'd be in this privileged position six weeks ago or seven weeks ago."
Viola described himself as a big hockey fan, pointing out he started following the New York Rangers in 1963 and was a long-time season-ticket holder at Madison Square Garden.
His love of the game was passed on to his three adult sons, and Viola said the youngest, Travis, also played a part in his wanting to own an NHL team.
"My wife and I had planned on relocating to Florida or Texas, and Florida won out for where we would retire or live," said Viola, who indicated he and his wife, Teresa, would be moving to South Florida. "The franchise is the right fit for me because my son is a fan, number one. It's poised to win and I'm committed to it."
Viola said his commitment means providing the necessary resources for general manager Dale Tallon to acquire players.
One example of that occurred with the signing Thursday of two-time Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas, who had joined the Panthers on a professional tryout.
"Our new owner made the effort to fly out and spend the day with Tim Thomas and decide if he was the kind of individual he would like to come in and be a part of our franchise," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said after practice Friday. "So the impact that he had was very relevant on the ice as far as our personnel and I expect to have the same thing as we move forward."
Tallon said Friday he also anticipated being able to spend more freely in free agency moving forward.
"I'm excited about this opportunity," Tallon said. "We've had great conversations. I'm inspired by Vinnie and I'm going to fight like hell to win a Stanley Cup soon."
Bettman called the sale the beginning of an "exciting new era for the Florida Panthers and their fans."
Bettman also said the sale should end once and for all any talk about the franchise relocating, even though he was adamant that any previous such talk was inaccurate.
"There's always been too much speculation and rumor and innuendo, and the fact is if anybody ever had a concern about the franchise, which they shouldn't have, there's no reason to have one now," Bettman said. "The only speculation should be about what the team is going to do on the ice over the next few years, and with the commitment to winning that Vinnie has expressed to everybody today, fans should be very excited about the future."
Panthers players certainly seemed excited after Viola spoke to them.
"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."
Viola acquired the Panthers from Cliff Viner, a former Panthers season-ticket holder who became co-general partner in 2009 and then sole general partner, CEO and chairman of the board the following year.
Viola's purchase includes the team and Sunrise Sports and Entertainment, which operates BB&T Center.
Viola and Cifu now are the only partners, having bought out Viner and his 13 partners, a group that included original owner H. Wayne Huizenga, former owner Alan Cohen and longtime NFL quarterback Bernie Kosar.
"We don't really own anything," Viola said. "The players sweat. It's about the players and the fans and our service to those respective groups that will determine our success.
"I want us to be a team that is completely committed to winning the right way for the community it represents."
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.
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."
Author: Alain Poupart | NHL.com Correspondent