RALEIGH, N.C. — The new owner of the Carolina Hurricanes is new to owning a professional sports team and, for that matter, relatively new to hockey.
But Tom Dundon knows how to run a successful business — and he wants to win soon.
"The blueprint for the business is fairly obvious — not too different from every other business in the world," Dundon said Friday during his introduction as the team’s majority owner.
"On the hockey side, the advice (has been) repeatedly, you’ve got to trust" his hockey-minded employees, he added. "I don’t think I’m going to walk in and understand more hockey than (general manager Ron Francis). That would be ridiculous."
Dundon, a 46-year-old billionaire from Dallas, is the former CEO of Santander Consumer USA, a Dallas-based lending firm. He’s also an investor in the Top Golf chain of golf and entertainment facilities and a key financier of a new golf course in Dallas.
Now he’s part of the exclusive club of pro sports owners.
"I value winning more than money," Dundon said, "but it doesn’t mean I want to burn it."
Dundon, who repeatedly described himself as impatient, has taken over the team with the NHL’s longest active post-season drought — eight years. Carolina entered Friday night’s home game against first-place Washington in playoff position after beating the Capitals 3-1 on Thursday night.
"I’m not patient. It’s not going to work for me to be patient," Dundon said. "And the fact that they had a team that can win right now, and we can then hopefully do some things to bring more fans and more resources and they can sustain what Ron and these guys have built, that was the big difference."
One of Dundon’s top challenges is attracting more fans. The Hurricanes rank next to last in attendance this season, averaging about 12,500 at the 18,680-seat building. Their average attendance of 11,776 last season was the team’s smallest since moving into PNC Arena in 1999.
"If we don’t sell more tickets, it’s not the fans’ fault — it’s our fault," Dundon said. "Clearly, this is a winning town, this is a winning place with a team that is ready to win. … They’ll come when we give them a reason to come."
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says Dundon’s purchase of the team and commitment to the Raleigh area should bury the talk about possible relocation.
"This is a community that has embraced NHL hockey and the Hurricanes," Bettman said. "I know over the years, there has been speculation and rumour and innuendo about the future of this franchise. Let me tell you, as I repeatedly said over the years, this franchise wasn’t going anywhere and isn’t going anywhere."
Under the ownership transition, Peter Karmanos Jr. will retain a minority piece of the club he purchased in 1994 and moved from Hartford, Connecticut, to North Carolina three years later.
Karmanos had been publicly seeking a local buyer for at least three years. He acknowledged over the summer that he and a group led by former Texas Rangers CEO Chuck Greenberg had agreed to an outline but could not settle on terms for a purchase agreement. He also said he was looking for a sale price of about $500 million.
Dundon said Karmanos initially rejected his first bid for the franchise. He said he usually can shake off a failed deal and move on to the next one, but described himself as "depressed" because "I was watching the team and now I’m (emotionally) invested, and it’s done.
"And I called (Karmanos) back, groveling, and that’s how we came to our deal," Dundon added. "I’ve already sort of proven that I’ll make an irrational financial decision if it means that we can win something."