[Update: The NHL has confirmed there were no other bids on the Dallas Stars. Tom Gaglardi will be the new owner of this hockey team.]
Late last week, some significant news regarding the sale and bankruptcy of the Dallas Stars finally came through and it was right along the lines of what we were expecting. With Tom Gaglardi's Stalking Horse bid being a substantial bid to secure the rights to purchase the team, Chuck Greenberg and Doug Miller both announced they would not be seeking a bid of their own. This opens the door for Tom Gaglardi to become the new owner of the Dallas Stars and it has all Stars fans wondering just how soon they could see changes start to take place around the organization.
Currently, we're waiting on word on whether the sale process will be sped up and if the Asset Purchase Agreement can be approved by the courts sooner than the current November 23 deadline. This deadline was in place in case of any new bids being submitted to the courts, which would then need to be approved by the NHL and the court system before a November 21 auction. With no bids being submitted, as we assume to be the case, there's a chance the sale could happen much faster than originally thought.
There's no doubt this is what the lenders want and this is what Gaglardi wants. The lenders are looking to sell the team as fast as possible now to avoid having to spend more money on payroll. The Stars are under approval from the courts right now to utilize previously set-aside cash to continue business as before, but there's no way progress can be made until Tom Gaglardi is firmly in change of the organization.
The question now becomes what changes can we expect to see? The Stars have been held in stasis as a business for so long now that it's strange to think that in just a few weeks this franchise can suddenly have the ability to move forward and start to build this team into a champion once more.
Don't expect sweeping changes to happen immediately, however.
Ever since it was announced that Gaglardi would likely be the next owner and no bids were expected, questions about how soon the Stars could raise payroll, make a big trade or sign a big player began to roll in. I can understand the hunger for such a move, as the Stars have been incapable of doing any of those things for nearly three seasons now. With the departure of Brad Richards and the retirement of Mike Modano, Dallas hockey fans are itching for something momentous to get them excited again.
Unfortunately, the timing just isn't right for such a move to be made as soon as Gaglardi owns the team. November and December typically aren't the best times of the season to attempt a big, franchise-altering trade and there just aren't any free agents on the streets that are worth making a bold move to go and get.
Even if such changes were possible, it's very important to remember that this organization is in dire need of changes and improvements in many other areas -- way before we think about the on-ice product.
There's a very good chance that Gaglardi is looking at significant losses this season after he purchases the team. With attendance at an all-time low and the NBA facing a lockout, revenue is going to be scarce to come by this season. As much as I would love to be able to under 100% of the bankruptcy documents and the financial wording of the purchase agreement, it's tough for me to determine just how much of these losses Gaglardi has factored into the purchase.
With around $260 million in value being attributed to his bid to purchase the team, other buyers found it difficult to come up with more value while also being able to attribute for staggering losses this season. Both Miller and Greenberg also project those losses to extend beyond this season -- especially with the NBA lockout affecting AAC revenue -- and they just weren't able to make such a financial commitment.
Instead, Gaglardi is going to purchase this team with a significant amount of financial value and look to set the Stars back on the right track as a business -- something that won't happen immediately and could take a while.
People see the sale of the Texas Rangers last season and see the changes that were made by Greenberg and Nolan Ryan, and they see the popularity of that team, and wonder why the same can't happen with the Stars. Unfortunately, the two teams are in two completely different places organizationally and it was a tremendous coincidence that the sale happened to come with the Rangers already an the rise.
It's important to remember that the Cliff Lee trade came before the auction and that attendance for the Rangers was already staggering. This was a team that was in the midst of becoming the best the American League had to offer, which already had a strong front office in place. Having Nolan Ryan, who was the President of Baseball Operations, purchase the team and eventually become CEO was providing tremendous continuity for a team that already was building to something great.
In my eyes, these current Dallas Stars more resemble the Texas Rangers of 2009 than that of 2010. A team that is just on the cusp of really turning the corner, who has tremendous potential waiting in the minors and who could be just a few years away from greatness. The momentum that existed with the Rangers doesn't exist with these Dallas Stars and it's going to take a lot more than a big trade or lowering the price of beer to turn Dallas back into a crazed hockey town.
What all of this boils down to is that right now, there's likely not going to be any major push to add to the roster -- at least not in November -- and instead will allow Gaglardi to focus where he needs to: off the ice.
Joe Nieuwendyk has done a tremendous job in maintaining the Dallas Stars to be competitive, despite a rock bottom payroll. The Stars are off to one of their best starts as a franchise and look to be improving as a team, showing the potential that this early-season success is not just a fluke. What he hasn't been able to do -- especially since it's not his job to do so -- is maintain the off-ice operations moving forward as well.
These issues are what Gaglardi should be focusing on ahead of anything else once he owns the team:
Rebuilding the front office.
The Dallas Stars have been without a "full" front office for a while now, ever since Jeff Cogen left to become the team president of the Nashville Predators. They've lost significant positions in marketing as well and some positions have been filled with only interim employees, most notably Tony Tavares.
The decision of who to hire as the next Team President is perhaps Gaglardi's most important, as that person will have the unenviable job of rebuilding hockey in North Texas. Essentially, the Stars will be starting over from scratch with the fans around the area -- just like they had to do in the 1990s.
Invest in a big marketing push for the team.
If there's one thing that is sorely lacking around the Dallas Stars is a marketing campaign that is needed to make people around Dallas aware of what is being built at the AAC. These Stars are showing tremendous potential and they deserve to have some excitement around them at home. While it's been encouraging to see just how much the marketing department has been able to do with so little over the past year, it's obvious that much more is needed in order to get people excited about this team again.
Rebuild the fanbase and get people to the arena.
The easiest way for this organization to turn around financially is to get people back at the AAC, and to not do so by giving away 35% of the tickets of every single home game. There's been much debate about the validity of massive promotional campaigns similar to what the Stars did early last season and what Cogen is doing in Nashville, but one thing is agreed-upon -- the Stars have to find a way to get people to start coming to games again.
This is going to be longest and hardest process. It's likely the Stars begin a campaign that falls somewhere in the middle between now and the Great Giveaway from last season, something that can be done to encourage people to come to games. As it stands, the Stars already have the cheapest tickets in the NHL so it's tough to hear arguments about how expensive it is to come to games. Yet it's also understandable to see frustration from fans where there is very little promotions in the way of providing some sort of discount.
Getting 18,000 fans back to the AAC is a complicated process that involves marketing, promotion and winning. Winning, by far, is the most important part of this equation. When a fanbase is in pieces and the focus is elsewhere, no amount of off-ice moves or marketing can get fans to show up if the team isn't winning. Just see what is happening in Columbus for an example of how this works.
Begin negotiations on a new media contract.
This is what Greenberg was attempting as part of his proposed bid to purchase the team and it just couldn't be worked out. It's possible that, with the current contract good through 2014, there's no immediate need to try and work out a new one. That doesn't mean that Gaglardi shouldn't start the process now, as a nice contract would provide a significant financial boost to the franchise that could allow them to make those moves all the fans are hungry for.
It's going to be tough for fans to see a new owner be announced yet not see sweeping, immediate changes on the ice. The fans want that big superstar, that splash of a trade to incite excitement but more importantly they want the promise that the Stars don't have to be in the basement of the NHL salary cap any longer. The thing to remember here, however, that making a move just to make a move can spell disaster both in the short term and the long term and even with the ability to do so, Nieuwendyk must be just as diligent about the moves he's making as we head further into the season.
Instead, there are other changes that need to be made first; ones I didn't even start to talk about. Local youth hockey, the Starscenters, local merchandising -- all of these issues need to be addressed first. The list is long for Gaglardi and what needs to be done to turn this back into a top-notch hockey organization once more and what is happening on the ice is -- thankfully -- far down the line.