By ALAN SNEL
Not only is tonight’s Vegas Golden Knights-Tampa Bay Lightning hockey game a fascinating match-up of two of the league’s successful on-ice stories this season, both teams have owners who are outside-the-box thinkers from the financial world who have done well in their respective adopted hockey towns.
Golden Knights owner Bill Foley and Lightning owner Jeff Vinik moved from very different parts of the country to own their NHL teams and both are among the most respected minds in the league’s team owner fraternity.
Foley, who just turned 73 last Thursday, is chairman of Fidelity National Financial and Black Knights Financial Services. He also owns a Montana-based restaurant group and wineries in California. He made his big money in the property title insurance industry, and FNF oversees several title insurance brands. He moved his Jacksonville, Fla.-based operation to Las Vegas and he lives in Summerlin.
LVSportsBiz.com caught up with Foley after the Golden Knights’ heart-pounding 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, with the VGK deciding goal coming with two seconds left.
Vinik, 58, is a former Wall Street titan who once managed Fidelity Magellan, once the country’s biggest mutual fund, and who earned a respected industry-wide reputation for running his own hedge fund. The former Boston fund manager re-located to Tampa Bay and these days Vinik is focused on his $3 billion downtown Tampa re-development plan.
Both have scored high grades for their NHL ownership skills. Vinik bought the Lightning for $170 million from Hollywood producer Oren Koules (known for his horror movie franchise, Saw) and former NHL player Len Barrie in 2010 after the Koules-Barrie tandem struggled mightily in the front office.
Meanwhile, Foley has assembled a strong business staff that has created a juggernaut in the ticket box office where the Golden Knights are averaging 17,810 fans a game, good for 102.6 percent of capacity at T-Mobile Arena. That attendance capacity is the third highest in the NHL, just behind Chicago and Minnesota. Licensed logo gear sales are running higher than budgeted expectations and Foley wants to take the Golden Knights brand worldwide to China and Europe.
Foley told LVSportsBiz.com after tonight’s game that he did not have a chance to meet Vinik tonight.
Vinik had a vision to make a section of downtown Tampa near the Lightning’s home arena into a walkable and sustainable neighborhood of condos, retail, restaurants, offices and Tampa’s first five-star hotel. The Vinik-backed real estate firm, Strategic Property Partners, is behind the $ 3 billion Water Street Tampa mega-development.
Foley has a vast empire that includes a golf course community in Montana, wineries in California (he just unveiled a limited edition inaugural Vegas Golden Knights label wine) and his restaurant group has six brands, including McKenzie River pizza. Foley is looking to open a second McKenzie River pizzeria in the Las Vegas market in 2018 after the first one opened in the Golden Knights’ training center and headquarters in City National Arena in Summerlin.
Vinik has brought stability to a franchise that floundered after Koules and Barrie bought the team in 2008 after previous owner Bill Davidson won a Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004. Vinik moved into the Tampa Bay market after buying the franchise in 2010 and the team’s non-profit foundation is known for doling out tens of thousands of dollars to local non-profit groups.
And Foley’s first place Golden Knights are credited with rallying and uniting a city emotionally ripped apart by a jarring shooting massacre on the Strip that claimed 58 lives and injured more than 500 others at an outdoor country music concert Oct. 1. Nine days later, the Golden Knights staged an emotionally-moving inaugural game ceremony at T-Mobile Arena Oct. 10, scored four goals in the first nine minutes in that game against the Arizona Coyotes and have captured the hearts of a market that has also embraced its first major-league team.
Vinik, who is attending tonight’s game at T-Mobile Arena, was not available to talk with LVSportsBiz.com.
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