Plattner: 'You cannot make money with a hockey team'

Plattner: 'You cannot make money with a hockey team'
January 30, 2013, 8:30 pm
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My credit line is good enough, if you look it up.
—Hasso Plattner

SAN JOSE – When Hasso Plattner attended a San Jose Sharks game in 1993, he could hardly believe his eyes. Suiting up for the home team was two-thirds of the Russian “KLM” line, which dominated the Soviet league and international hockey in the 80s, including Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov wearing teal.

Twenty years later, Plattner, who was introduced to hockey on a black-and-white television in the 1960s as a German youth by watching the Russian leagues, has a majority stake – and then some – in Sharks Sports and Entertainment. Investors Kevin Compton and Stratton Sclavos, who were the acting figureheads of the company, have sold their shares to Plattner, it was announced by the team on Wednesday. The reasons for their decision and departure are private.

The co-founder of software giant SAP and listed as the 127th richest man in the world with a net worth of $7.2 billion (according to Forbes), Plattner sat down with a select group of reporters at HP Pavilion to discuss the ownership shakeup.

Or, perhaps shakeup isn’t the right word.

“We want to continue as much as possible the same way,” said Plattner, who had a majority share of the company even before acquiring Compton's and Sclavos' shares.

“We still want to have a championship team and win the Stanley Cup. That’s clearly the number one objective of a sports club, otherwise you should not be in the sports business.”

Plattner also wants to make sure the Sharks, who claimed a loss of $15 million last season, have a sustainable business model. He has no fantasies of turning a major profit, though.

“The financial situation is not better this year than last year,” he said. “On the other hand, I said this to the employees, don’t worry. My credit line is good enough, if you look it up. 

“That doesn’t mean that we spend money foolishly. We have to work hard. Thanks to Kevin and Stratton, they did a lot of improvements. Unfortunately, this situation threw us back a little bit. We move forward. The biggest surprise, or probably reward, because the team is playing so well – the fans are back from day one. That was a concern in our financial modeling.”

[RATTO: Plattner's deep pockets increase Sharks' NHL influence]

The Sharks have routinely spent near the salary cap ceiling for many years now, and Plattner doesn’t expect that to change, although there is uncertainty around every team in the league how the new CBA will play out as the ink has barely dried on the 10-year deal.

Speaking in a German accent and with a tone that seemed to be both deeply serious yet a bit carefree, Plattner said: “As we say in hockey, we want to go deep. That is the mission. If anybody is asking if there is any change in the strategy or ambition – no.”

The Sharks’ newly constructed board consists of Plattner, minority owner Gary Valenzuela, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and Bay Area resident Scott McNealy, and Partner/CFO of Hasso Plattner Ventures, Rouven Westphal.

The board plans on meeting four times a year, and, as was the structure under Compton and Sclavos, there will be no CEO. Malcolm Bordelon remains in charge of business operations, while Doug Wilson heads up the hockey department.

“We try to avoid any kind of drama. We feel very comfortable that we do not need a CEO position,” Plattner said. “We have a very simplistic ownership structure now, and we have a management team in place for many years. Everything is pretty much well defined and operational.”

Plattner didn’t want to disclose his exact percentage stake, but said: “We are in a solid financial situation. You can look me up, so I can guarantee this financial situation. But, that doesn’t mean that we don’t work hard to have a normal business.”

At the same time, “You cannot make money with a hockey team. You cannot make money with a hotel, either, and you cannot make money with a golf club. I have all three of them (laughs).”

* * *

Plattner said he spends about one-third of the year in the United States, citing tax regulations. He attends approximately 15 home games a season. His interests are varied, and it’s obvious he lives a peripatetic lifestyle that can only be afforded by a person of his means.

His competitive nature, which is manifested in his love for sailing, is also evident when it comes to hockey.

“Despite it’s such a hard sport, and tough sport, and sometimes violent, it is aesthetically unbelievable when you see the guys and what they can do on skates at the tempo,” he said. “This is missing in soccer.”

Plattner spent about five minutes with the Sharks players before their practice at HP Pavilion on Wednesday.

“This is an exciting day for our organization, with Mr. Plattner coming in and taking over the sole ownership, basically of the team, or the majority of it,” head coach Todd McLellan said. “His vision of the team isn’t going to change what it was in the past. He believes in the group that’s here, and believes in the way its run.”

“You could feel the passion he has for the Sharks, the community, and the players when he spoke to the group.”

For McLellan and the rest of the organization, it appeared to be business as usual. Early indications are that Plattner wants to keep it that way.