Vincent Vinnie Viola, a prominent New York businessman and former minority owner of the NBAs Nets, is leading a group in completing a deal to purchase the Florida Panthers from Palm Beach businessman Cliff Viner, an industry source said Wednesday.
Letters of intent have been executed, but the transaction still needs to be signed and approved by the NHL. The source said its conceivable the deal could fall through, but both sides want to make it happen.
The sale price is $230 million, and Viola is buying out several of the teams minority owners. Last season, Forbes had placed the franchises value at $170 million.
The Panthers are expected to remain in South Florida; the teams lease with the Broward County-owned BB&T Center runs through 2028.
Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, which operates the arena, is the profitable arm of the Florida Panthers family of companies and is said to be part of the transaction.
The team had no comment after the New York Post first reported a group of unidentified New York-based investors were buying the team. The Panthers have been losing more than $20 million per season in recent years, the source said.
A source close to the team confirmed the sale was in the works and said general manager Dale Tallon has been telling players interested in coming to the Panthers such as former All-Star goalie Tim Thomas that a new owner would be in place soon.
An announcement could be coming in the next few weeks.
Captain Ed Jovanovski, who said he heard reports of a new owner on a weekly basis while with the Phoenix Coyotes, said word of a new owner shouldnt affect the team at all.
For the most part, you have a bunch of guys who just want to play hockey, Jovanovski said. Whatever happens on the ownership side will be taken care of by the executives in place. I think for us, we just wait and see. Were trying to be in the right frame of mind for the start of the season.
But someone new coming in must be eager to take over the team. You have to look at that as a positive. Well see.
Anytime you have an ownership group that wants to win and wants to spend money, thats exciting for a player.
Viola is a successful commodities dealer who previously was chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange and is now chairman of Virtu Financial, an electronic commodities trading company.
He was a minority owner of the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets of which Brett Yormark, twin brother of Panthers president Michael, is CEO several years ago but is no longer, according to the team.
Viola was born in Brooklyn in 1956, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1977 and served as an officer in the 101st Airborne. He transferred to the Army Reserve in 1982 before leaving the Army Reserve as a major in 1993.
Viola and his wife, Teresa, now live in Manhattan after raising three sons in New Jersey.
According to the Nets media guide, Viola joined the New York Mercantile Exchange as a local trader after leaving the army. He became a member of the exchange in 1982, the same year he graduated from New York Law School. He was the companys chairman from 2001 to 2004 and helped the exchange through the turmoil of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Leah McGrath Goodmans 2011 book, The Asylum: The Renegades Who Hijacked the Worlds Oil Market, offers details about Viola and the New York Mercantile Exchange when he was chairman there.