The Florida Panthers have been one of the NHL's most troubled franchises for the past several years due to a poor on-ice product and lack of fan interest, but the culture may be changing. The club announced their formal sale to New York businessman Vincent Viola on Friday morning.
Viola, who purchased the team from Cliff Viner and a group of investors, also receives the operating rights to the Broward County-owned arena where the Panthers have a lease running through 2028.
According to an official release by the team, Viola is the new chairman, principal owner and governor of Sunrise Sports & Entertainment and the Panthers. Douglas Cifu assumes the role of vice chairman, partner and alternate governor. Michael Yormark has been promoted to president and CEO.
"We understand that the fans are the be all and end all," said Viola, who along with his wife will be moving to South Florida.
"We are committed to provide the resources to the Florida Panthers necessary to win a Stanley Cup," Viola said.
Harvey Fialkov of the Sun-Sentinel reported the news of the sale first Thursday.
George Richards of the Miami Herald is reporting that the announcement will officially be made at 10 a.m. ET on Friday at the BB&T Center.
#FlaPanthers to officially announce new ownership Friday at 10 am at Sunrise arena...— George Richards (@GeorgeRichards) September 26, 2013
Richards also adds further details regarding Panthers ownership:
Word is all current ownership of #FlaPanthers are being bought out...includes locals Viner, Zimmerman, the Cohens, the Maroones and Huizenga— George Richards (@GeorgeRichards) September 26, 2013
Viola will reportedly buy the team for $250 million, according to Chris Botta of SportsBusiness Journal.
. @SBJSBD has learned the sale price of the Florida Panthers to Vincent Viola is $250 million. Cliff Viner not staying on.— Chris Botta (@ChrisBottaNHL) September 25, 2013
According to Katie Strang of ESPNNewYork.com, Cliff Viner of Sunrise Sports and Entertainment had been the Panthers' majority owner since 2009. The sale of the team has been a work in progress, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hinted that a resolution could be on the horizon back on Monday.
"I know the two parties are working very hard on the transaction. They're going to try to consummate that as quickly as possible," Bettman said after Monday's Board of Governors meeting at the New York Hilton in midtown Manhattan.
Viola is the chief executive officer of Virtu Financial, according to Fialkov, and he is expected to co-own the team with Virtu Financial chief operating officer Douglas Cifu.
Will Viola be able to make the Panthers a winning franchise?
The Panthers have largely been a moribund franchise since entering the NHL in 1993 with a few notable exceptions. The team shockingly reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996 only to lose to the Colorado Avalanche in four games. After a decade-long playoff drought, the Panthers reached the postseason in 2011-12 by virtue of their first-ever Southeast Division title.
That progress stalled last season, however, as the Panthers returned to familiar territory by finishing with the league's worst record. If Viola is committed to building a winning product, though, perhaps a turnaround will occur in the near future.
The team has plenty of young talent currently, but it will take some time for those players to grow and gel together. Reigning Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau is coming off a strong rookie campaign, and he will be expected to carry the offensive load.
It will also be interesting to see if forward Aleksander Barkov, who was the No. 2-overall selection in the 2013 NHL draft, will make the team this year. The 2013-14 season may be a trying one regardless, but change and a fresh perspective are on the horizon.
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