Jeffrey Vinik, a Boston money manager, is the latest businessman who will try to make the Tampa Bay Lightning a financial success.
Vinik, 50, bought the club for $170-million (all currency U.S.) yesterday from co-owners Oren Koules, Len Barrie and their six minority partners. He became chairman of the Lightning immediately and will be the sole owner of the team.
"Buying the Lightning and joining the Tampa Bay community is a dream come true," Vinik said in a statement released by the team. "I've been an avid hockey fan my whole life and I pledge to our fans that I will work my hardest to build the Lightning into a world class organization both on and off the ice.
"I hope to bring a high level of excitement and intensity back to Lightning hockey, with a goal of having the team consistently compete for the Stanley Cup. I have a passion for the game and will do my best to restore a winning culture at the St. Pete Times Forum that all of our fans and partners can be proud of."
The purchase price, which is all in cash, includes the Lightning, the management lease to the lucrative St. Pete Times Forum and 51/2 acres of land around the arena.
It was a difficult day for Koules because he did not want to sell a majority share of the club and was unable to maintain a role in the operation after it became clear Vinik did not want any partners. Koules, a successful film and television producer, was forced to carry on by himself as owner when Barrie ran into financial problems last year. He reluctantly decided he could no longer carry the losses for a club whose revenues plunged to the bottom of the league.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who directed the sale to Vinik, gave Koules and Barrie the chance to buy each other out. But neither could find a willing partner.
"The day is a bittersweet one for us, as I believe we have established a strong foundation on the ice and begun to point things in a positive direction for the Lightning," Koules said in a statement. "We look forward to seeing [Vinik]take the team from here and move it forward. I believe we are leaving him with some great pieces in place and hopefully he can build upon them to deliver a consistent winner in the future."
One source said Vinik has not decided who will run the team for him but he expects to hire a president soon. One candidate may be former Lightning president Ron Campbell. General manager Brian Lawton's job appears to be safe for now.
The sale still must be approved by the NHL's board of governors but since the chairman of the board, Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, is said to have introduced Vinik to Bettman, that should not be a problem. In any event, Vinik's personal worth is reported to be at least $500-million, which puts him well ahead of many NHL owners.
The sale fell into place quickly after Bettman was introduced to Vinik, the head of Vinik Asset Management, at the annual outdoor game in Boston on Jan. 1. Vinik is also a minority owner of the Boston Red Sox.
There was a great deal of motivation for Bettman to conclude the sale of the Lightning as quickly as possible. It was an embarrassment for the NHL commissioner when Barrie was accused by the former auditor of his Bear Mountain golf resort and a representative of several investors of improperly taking money from the development to finance his purchase of the Lightning.
Barrie's arrival as an owner in 2008 coincided with Bettman's vow to conduct more rigorous due diligence on prospective owners after the William (Boots) Del Biaggio scandal which saw the former part-owner of the Nashville Predators go to jail for fraudulently obtaining the money to buy his share of the team. But more than one source who knew about Barrie's financial situation before sale of the Lightning said no one representing the NHL ever contacted them.
Koules and Barrie plus a group of minority partners bought the Lightning in June, 2008 for $207-million from Palace Sports and Entertainment Ltd. It is not clear how much money will be left from the sale for Koules and Barrie.
In Barrie's case, creditors from the Bear Mountain resort near Victoria, B.C., will demand any proceeds from the sale. As a successful film and television producer, Koules does not have a line of creditors waiting to seize any proceeds but he will be taking a substantial loss on the team on both the sale price and the money he had to put in to cover operating losses for two seasons.
Palace Sports and Entertainment Ltd., which financed about $100-million of the deal and guaranteed a loan of about $30-million from Galatioto Sports Partners may take less than it is owed to get the loans off its books. Galatioto Sports Partners will be repaid in full.
With files from The Associated Press