A certain malady plagues South Florida pro sports teams. It’s the sickness of inconsistency. The Dolphins own the undefeated season and have only had one winning season since the start of the 2004 season. The Heat are one of the best teams in basketball right now, but have a .486 winning percentage aside from the “Big Three” era. The Marlins have won two world championships, but have not been in the playoffs in any of their other 20 years of existence. The Panthers have had a Stanley Cup appearance and were in the playoffs two years ago, but have only been there four times over 19 seasons.
There are no dynasties in South Florida, not long-term, anyway. Each team’s root cause is variable, but one thing remains constant — a change in ownership. The Marlins have had three; the Heat, two; and the Dolphins, three. And now the Panthers have five. Vincent Viola, a Brooklyn native and former chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), has purchased the hockey team from Cliff Viner for $250 million. Along with a purchase of a team, hope always abounds; it’s a fresh start, a new commitment.
It could be those things. It also could not. But one thing is certain, it will come with a period of optimism. In fact, it started the day it was officially reported that Viola purchased the team. Two-time Vezina Award-winning goalie Tim Thomas signed a one-year pact with the Panthers, potentially their biggest signing since the 2011 offseason.
Along with the potential on-ice personnel improvements, a change in ownership gives fans a hope that consistency is at hand. Take a glance at some of the winningest teams in the NHL — the Boston Bruins (owned by Jeremy Jacobs since 1975), the Detroit Red Wings (owned by Mike Ilitch since 1982), the Chicago Blackhawks (owned by the Wirtz family since 1954). Some of the best teams have consistency in their control. The stability of ideology allows teams to create and control an identity and a brand. It’s what every sports team strives toward.
Increased revenue streams would be a boon to the team’s hopes. But more than that, the team needs a trusting and farsighted owner. Although it is impossible to know absolutely, a first-time owner would seemingly come to the throne with aspirations of impressing and earning the trust of the fan base.
And Viola has the credentials to impress. Leah McGrath Goodman’s 2011 book The Asylum: The Renegades Who Hijacked the World’s Oil Market, which focused on NYMEX, said, “He exuded leadership. His personality was amazing, he drew people in. He was a phenomenal speaker. Even if he didn’t know what he was talking about, he sounded like he knew what he was saying. He was an astute businessman and an extreme opportunist.”
Interestingly enough, in 2009, Viola, then a minority owner of the New Jersey Nets, tried to buy out majority owner Bruce Ratner and take control of the franchise. Having the controlling interest in a sports franchise has been a wish of his, and he has now made that wish reality.
Vincent Viola has a chance to bring an era of consistency to the Florida Panthers. It’s not going to be easy, but it sure would be rewarding.
Preston Michelson is a freshman at the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism and is a graduate of Palmer Trinity School. He is a frequent contributor to this newspaper and the opinions he expresses are his own and not necessarily those of the editors and publishers. Contact him on Twitter at @PrestonMich or by email at <email@example.com>.