Thomas Dundon was shooting baskets on the floor at PNC Arena Thursday afternoon when the last wire transfer went through. At that moment, the 46-year-old was one pro forma NHL signature away from owning the Carolina Hurricanes.
For Dundon, the Dallas billionaire who bought the team out of a competitive spirit and belief he can find a better way to do things, his first hours as the owner of a major-league team didn’t feel any different. Since reaching a purchase agreement with Peter Karmanos in December, Dundon has been meeting with Hurricanes employees and players, making plans and getting ready for this day.
Even before the sale went through Thursday afternoon, giving him 61 percent of the team in a deal that valued the franchise at $550 million, Dundon already had arena employees working on the first behind-the-scenes changes, taking measurements and drawing up plans. By the time Dundon makes his first public appearance Friday morning, alongside Karmanos and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, things will already have changed for the Hurricanes.
And they will continue to change.
“We’re questioning everything,” Dundon said Thursday, and they might as well stencil that above the door.
Not the locker room door, though. Dundon said he’s happy with the work done by general manager Ron Francis and coach Bill Peters and loves the team’s upward ascendance. A lot of what Dundon will do is drawn from the playbook his friend Mark Cuban put together when he bought the Dallas Mavericks, but people forget Cuban inherited Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki. The same might be said of Dundon someday. His only real complaint right now is that the players aren’t big enough stars in this market – and he wants to do everything he can to change that.
As for everything else, from concessions to parking to ticketing, Dundon’s first priority is to upgrade the fan experience, to take away excuses not to go to games. There may even be noticeable changes by the time the Hurricanes take the ice against the Washington Capitals on Friday in the second half of a back-to-back set that’s nothing short of critical to the Hurricanes’ playoff hopes.
In the longer term, expect to see movement on a new practice rink and the long-delayed renovations to the south entrance plaza of PNC Arena – revised to include a desperately needed sports bar for pregame entertainment.
In short, Dundon is saying all the right things that fans have wanted to hear for a long time, with the exception of his geography. With five kids, all 16 or younger, he plans to keep his home base in Dallas – but plans to be here as often as he feels he needs to be. He’s been “retired” for almost three years. He’s been home a lot. He’s ready to dig into his next project.
“The people understand the way we’ve been doing it in the past isn’t getting us results,” Dundon said Thursday. “We’re going to work with them and help them figure it out.”
Karmanos will still be around as a sort of senior adviser, but he is believed to support the incoming wave of change and understands it’s necessary for the franchise to move forward – and that it was not something he could do at his age and with his resources.
His final act as majority owner was quite a gift to the franchise. He found a new owner who was willing to keep the team here, to invest, to innovate, to drive the franchise and arena forward into the future. That may or may not work out, but it’s all anyone could ask of Karmanos as he exits the stage.
So these are going to be different, disruptive days under Dundon, for better or for worse. He’s young, energetic, technologically savvy and analytically minded. Things are going to change, and fast. How fast? Fans might even be able to detect subtle differences by Friday night.
Dundon has been preparing for weeks for this day. He’s not going to wait around to start doing things his way.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock