Dundon says he couldn't say no to a chance to own the Hurricanes

News & Observer |

--Tom Dundon says he's not the type to circle back on a business deal.

Dundon, a Dallas billionaire, does his due diligence, sifts through the financial data and decides on a fair offer. If it doesn't close the deal, that's that.

Except with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Dundon, introduced Friday as the new majority owner and managing partner of the Hurricanes, said he made first made an offer to Peter Karmanos Jr. that the owner turned down. A week later, a somewhat depressed Dundon was back with a new one.

Money is money, he said. He's made a lot of it. But there's an emotional attachment involved in owning a major-league sports team, and Dundon said he already felt that attachment to the Hurricanes.

"Never in my life had I gone back on a deal," Dundon said. "If we didn't get it done it was over and I didn't think about it again and went on to the next one."

But Dundon said he had been watching the team and was emotionally invested in the team, excited when they won and miserable if they lost.

"Then it's over and I'm done," he said, speaking of the deal falling through. "I can't do what I want to do with the organization."

A week later, Dundon reached Karmanos again, with a higher offer. He wanted to own the hockey team.

"I called him back, groveling," Dundon said. "That's how we came to our deal. So I've already proven I will make an irrational financial decision."

Dundon's day

Dundon agreed to buy 61 percent of the franchise, which was valued at $550 million, with an option to purchase the remainder in three years.

On Friday, Dundon sat next to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on a dais at PNC Arena, saying he first met Bettman three months ago and adding, "I think we're best friends now."

To Bettman's right sat Karmanos, who will remain as a minority owner and was praised by Bettman for his contributions to the sport, both in bringing the Hurricanes to the Triangle and North Carolina and in his long-time support of youth hockey in Detroit. That earned Karmanos an ovation from the large crowd packed into the Arena Club.

But Friday was Dundon's day. And he was Tom Dundon. He wore Hurricanes athletic gear to the press conference. He wore Under Armour sneakers.

He's not a dress-up, coat-and-tie kind of guy. He looked as if he was ready to head to a nearby golf course and get in a quick 18 holes.

But Dundon, 46, is about results, not appearances. His mantra appears to be "Keep improving everything, every day, all the time" -- a phrase he used Friday in describing the culture he wants in the organization moving forward.

Fresh blood

Among those at the Arena Club at PNC Arena was Abel Zalcberg, one of the Hurricanes' investment partners.

"I think it's going to be great for the franchise," Zalcberg said of the ownership change. "It's time we get fresh blood in here. ... I think the team is definitely prepared for success for the next five, six years. I think he has all the right traits to take this to the next level and we hope he will do that.

"I think Tom Dundon knows what he's doing from a business point of view. He didn't become a billionaire from not knowing what to do."

Karmanos, 74, said he would have an advisory role with the team and said one suggestion to Dundon was to double the season-ticket sales.

"That would make a huge difference because some of those crummy crowds are a result of not having enough season tickets," Karmanos said.

The fan experience

The Canes rank 30th in NHL home attendance this season at 12,494 per game, but Dundon said that not the fault of the fans.

"If we don't sell more tickets it's our fault," he said.

Dundon, as he did in an interview Thursday, again expressed the need to provide a better fan experience at PNC Arena. He noted at the games he has attended, "It didn't look like what I would want it to look like."

As far as the team on the ice, the Canes topped the Washington Capitals 3-1 on Thursday to again move into a wild-card playoff position in the Eastern Conference. The Canes and Caps faced off again Friday at PNC Arena -- with Dundon watching.

"He's been like the Energizer bunny," Canes general manager Ron Francis said. "He's gathered as much information as he can to sort of help steer things and get a better understanding of how we can be better. He's looking at every facet of the organization and see where we can do things that can give us an edge and make us better."

Chip Alexander: 919-829-8945, @ice_chip


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