Hurricanes’ ownership situation shifts to Dallas billionaire

Thomas Dundon is the new frontrunner to buy the team from Peter Karmanos Jr., with Chuck Greenberg's bid fizzling

Fans and players alike stand for the playing of the national anthem before the NHL game between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Minnesota Wild at PNC Arena in Raleigh, Oct. 7, 2017. The Carolina Hurricanes opened their home season by defeating the Minnesota Wild 5 - 4 in an overtime shootout. (Eamon Queeney / North State Journal)

RALEIGH — On the ice, the Carolina Hurricanes are trying to navigate their way back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Off it, the team is trying to negotiate its way to new ownership.

Don Waddell, president of the team’s parent company Gale Force Sports & Entertainment, confirmed Wednesday that negotiations with prospective buyer Chuck Greenberg have quieted, but other groups remain interested.

“I think he’s still out there trying to raise capital, but we didn’t have an exclusive with him,” Waddell said of Greenberg. “So when that letter of intent expired, we had other groups that were standing there waiting to take some hard looks at the team. So we moved on and now the process is moving forward and we have some potential buyers out there.”

The latest name to emerge is Dallas billionaire Thomas Dundon, who founded Santader Consumer USA in 1995 and cashed out to the tune of more than $700 million when he left the company a few years ago.

While Greenberg — an attorney and owner of a handful of minor league baseball teams and former managing partner of the Texas Rangers — has attempted to raise money to make a bid for the Hurricanes, Dundon has the ability to make a move without other investors.

“The difference is you’re dealing with someone who is capable of making the transaction,” Waddell said. “After he does his due diligence and he’s ready to roll, he has the capital and can move forward.”

And although Dundon’s name has just come to light — Francois Gagnon from French-Canadian media outlet RDS first reported Wednesday morning that the team was “on the verge” of being sold to Dundon — Waddell said negotiations have already moved beyond what was accomplished with Greenberg.

“When you have a situation where we have a property that people want, an individual can probably move faster than groups of people,” Waddell said. “Everything’s proceeding probably faster than the last deal with Chuck, that’s for sure.”

Greenberg has not returned a message to comment.

Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr. — who moved the Hartford Whalers franchise to North Carolina in 1997 — has been actively looking to sell the team for a few years, but Waddell said comments Karmanos made to the Raleigh News & Observer a month ago that he was looking to “get some liquidity before I kick off” do not indicate he is more desperate to sell the team.

“Obviously, Pete is 74 years old with four kids at home and would want to make sure his estate is in order,” Waddell said.

“He watched what happened with [Bill] Davidson who owned the Pistons — when he died suddenly, his wife had to sell the team as a fire sale,” Waddell continued. “So Pete has said all along if he finds the right buyer that’s committed to Raleigh as much as he was — the league will obviously do their due diligence — that he would look to do that.”

Like Greenberg before him, Dundon has visited Raleigh several times, including coming to a preseason game.

“I think he’s been in this area a lot, likes the market, likes the Triangle, the region,” Waddel said. “He has spent time here and certainly has liked his visits here and believes in what we have going on here.”

Despite having moved the Whalers to Raleigh and rebranding them as the Hurricanes, Karmanos and the NHL have been adamant about the potential of the Triangle market and are only in talks with prospective ownership groups that are committed to keeping the team in Raleigh.

“Pete had said along: he’s put a lot of money into this marketplace, he believes in this marketplace, the NHL believes in this marketplace,” Waddell said. “Any potential buyer is not going to have that option. They know if they’re buying the team, they’re buying it to keep it in Raleigh, North Carolina.”

Dundon — who on top of his wealth earned with Santader has opened a golf course southeast of Dallas and also owns 25 percent of up-and-coming TopGolf, which opened its first complex in Charlotte this summer and has explored a Triangle site — is front and center, but Waddell said there are other groups still expressing interest as well.

“We’re talking to everyone now as a group, and I don’t want to put a timetable on a purchase agreement,” Waddell said. “We are talking about deal points with everybody right now.”

Each of the potential buyers, Waddell said, have expressed an interest in Karmanos — who has been asking in the range of $400-500 million for the team — remaining involved in the franchise, either has a partial owner or consultant.

“All the groups we’re talking with right now have requested that he stay involved,” Waddell said. “Pete’s got 40 years of experience in the NHL and is in the Hall of Fame for a reason.

“So all these groups have expressed interest in Pete staying involved. … Some groups have certainly talked about consulting, but other groups want him to stay as an equity partner, and I think that’s the preference of Pete.”