The Hockey News - Money & Power
BEFORE 2011, THE Dallas Stars were in a dismal place on the business side of the house. Owner Tom Hicks was forced to sell his other sports holdings, MLB’s Texas Rangers and the Premier League’s Liverpool FC, in 2010 to satisfy creditors. After defaulting on a halfbillion-dollar loan in early 2010, the Stars were effectively managed by the NHL during the 2010-11 season and filed for bankruptcy the next year. “You could tell the franchise had been in bankruptcy,” said current team president Brad Alberts of the situation in 2011.
“It needed a lot of work.”
There was just one bidder at the bankruptcy auction: Canadian businessman Tom Gaglardi.
Gaglardi is the president of the largest family-owned hospitality firm in Canada. Bob Gaglardi, Tom’s father, founded the Sandman hotel chain back in 1967 and expanded his holdings over the decades to also include dining and sports franchises under the name Northland Properties. The group owns all Denny’s Restaurants in Canada and the Moxie’s Grill & Bar chain and purchased the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers in 2007.
Gaglardi had been interested in owning an NHL franchise since at least 2004 when he was part of a bid to purchase a 50-percent stake in the Vancouver Canucks, and later a bid for the Atlanta Thrashers with plans to move the team to Hamilton, Ont. The third time was a charm as Gaglardi got his team on Nov. 18, 2011. It was a messy deal that involved a significant haircut for many of Dallas’ creditors. For the price of $240 million, Gaglardi was an NHL owner. “With Tom not being in Dallas, it makes it unique,” Alberts said. “People could say he’s an absentee owner, which is not at all true. He’s engaged with us every day on the issues that surround an NHL team, whether that’s business or the players.”
While Gaglardi and Dallas might seem like an odd pairing, his mother grew up in Longview, Texas, just a twohour drive from downtown Dallas, and his father went to LeTourneau University, also in Longview, where the two met. It also doesn’t hurt that Gaglardi’s closet is reportedly full of Dallas Cowboys gear.
Coming out of bankruptcy, the Stars’ fan base put a lot of faith in Gaglardi’s new ownership after years of tightly managed budgets that barely pushed the salary-cap floor.
Knowing that the Dallas market has a number of eccentricities and not having any previous experience himself in the geography, Gaglardi made a sage decision to bring back Jim Lites as team president. “He realized right away that Jim and I know this market,” Alberts said, “and you can’t sell hockey here the same way you do in Vancouver.”
Without business connections in Dallas and needing to quickly build a rapport with local corporations to ensure ticket sales and sponsorships, Gaglardi put together an ownership advisory group, described by Alberts as “basically a minority ownership group without equity.”
The team went to CEOs of local firms such as Toyota, 7Eleven and At Home to promote the team in the community and buy into the franchise’s vision. Not only has it helped Gaglardi get a foothold for his restaurant chain Moxie’s outside the American Airlines Center, but it has also put more fans in the seats as corporations promote their connections to the Stars.
Having been stuck in a holding pattern for so many years on the hockey side, the Stars started to make big moves to catch up. At the end of 2012-13, Dallas hired Jim Nill as GM, a move that immediately paid dividends with the trade for Tyler Seguin that summer. The team was wearing spartan black-andwhite jerseys emblazoned sim- ply with the word “Dallas” in block letters. Gaglardi was the driving force behind a complete rebrand to the current “victory green” and white scheme. Gaglardi also purchased the AHL’s Texas Stars in 2014.
The deepening connections that Northland has made between its hospitality properties and its sports teams show that the Stars have solid ownership in a way they had seriously lacked prior to Gaglardi’s arrival, and they hope this will translate to improved on-ice success as well. – STEPHEN MESERVE