Thomas Dundon, the new owner of the Carolina Hurricanes, comes across as a man of many ideas, constantly in motion, looking to make changes and move forward.
Dundon, a self-made billionaire from Dallas, finalized the deal Thursday in which he took over majority ownership of the Hurricanes from Peter Karmanos Jr., the National Hockey League announced. Dundon will own 61 percent of the NHL team, which was valued at $550 million, with an option to buy the remainder in three years.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will join Dundon, Karmanos and Ron Francis, the Hurricanes’ executive vice president and general manager, at a press conference Friday at PNC Arena to discuss the ownership changeover.
I’ve watched hockey for a long time and I enjoy it, but I think the part that’s most enjoyable is there are a lot of moving pieces and you get to figure out, hopefully, how to find a way to win or help people be successful.
New Canes owner Thomas Dundon
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Dundon, 46, has no background in professional sports but knows how to operate a successful business and already has analyzed much of the Hurricanes’ organization and operation. He also likes to win.
Asked Thursday why he wanted to own a hockey team, Dundon said, “Because they keep score, mostly.
“I’ve watched hockey for a long time and I enjoy it, but I think the part that’s most enjoyable is there are a lot of moving pieces and you get to figure out, hopefully, how to find a way to win or help people be successful. There’s everything from how you treat the players and giving them an advantage, and the resources you do with the coaches, and how you market the team and how you generate entertainment in the building that brings energy, that hopefully helps you win.”
Likes direction of the team
Karmanos has been the team’s majority owner since 1994, moving the franchise to North Carolina in 1997 from Hartford, Conn., and celebrating a Stanley Cup championship in 2006. Karmanos, 74, will retain an equity share in the team.
“I am tickled pink,” Karmanos said in an interview. “I’ve been looking for a partner since my partner (Thomas Thewes) died in 2009 and I’ve got one, a good one.”
Dundon said he likes the direction of the team under Francis and Canes coach Bill Peters – “Yes, 100 percent,” he said. He sees a young team on an upward trajectory, which was a selling point.
“Everyone says they want to be patient but I’m not patient,” Dundon said. “The fact we can do a few more things to continue the momentum is better than going into a situation where you sort of have to go backwards. I didn’t want to go backwards.”
Dundon said he would not hesitate to pursue some of the NHL’s higher-priced free agents. While not naming names, that could include such players as center John Tavares of the New York Islanders, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season if not re-signed by the Isles.
Dundon said his first priority would be in improving the fan experience at PNC Arena. He is scrutinizing every aspect of the game-day experience, from traffic flow and parking to food and beer prices.
“We have to give the fan more value,” Dundon said. “Part of that is the team winning. But it’s getting more people in the arena and making them feel they’re somewhere they’d rather be rather than being at home.”
The interview with Dundon on Thursday was at courtside at PNC Arena. He soon grabbed a basketball and got off a few jumpers – he’s a left-hander – and said he would attend the N.C. State’ basketball game Thursday night against Clemson.
Staying in Raleigh
Dundon made his fortune in the subprime auto lending industry. He and his five children live in Dallas.
Karmanos joined Thewes, his former business partner, in buying the Hartford Whalers in 1994 – former general manager Jim Rutherford also had a share of the team – and relocated the franchise to Raleigh. Renamed the Carolina Hurricanes, the team moved into PNC Arena in 1999, reached the Stanley Cup final in 2002 and won the Stanley Cup in 2006.
In recent years, Karmanos first looked to add investors in the Canes, then to sell a controlling interest in the team. A group headed by sports attorney Chuck Greenberg put together a term sheet that had Karmanos’ approval, but Greenberg had trouble lining up enough investors to meet Karmanos’ selling price.
Dundon stepped in and agreed to a sale agreement in December. The franchise will remain in Raleigh.
“What set Tom apart was one, he’s a solid business guy,” Karmanos said. “He’s willing to learn and listen and he’s energetic. He can put some additional capital around the team it really needs.”
Passionate about winning
Dundon, a friend of trend-setting Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, is expected to make sweeping changes to the team’s business operations, in-game presentation and player comforts while leaving general manager Ron Francis and coach Bill Peters in place.
I think he’s pretty passionate about trying to make a winner out of this place. That’s pretty clear when you talk to him.
Assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour
Dundon accompanied the team on a two-game road trip before Christmas to Toronto and Nashville, and has been able to talk with some of the coaches and players.
“I think he’s pretty passionate about trying to make a winner out of this place,” assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “That’s pretty clear when you talk to him.
“I don’t think he necessarily has seen a lot of hockey. He certainly didn’t grow up with it. But when he talks about the things he wants to do, the passion is there for sure.
“He wants to win now, which I like. We’re not here to just be OK but here to win and win it all. I think that’s why he’s getting involved.”
Chip Alexander: 919-829-8945, @ice_chip