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Is Hasso Plattner The Man To Save Worcester Pro Sports?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Can Hasso Plattner save Worcester professional sports?

Hasso Plattner could be just the man to save Worcester pro sports. Hasso who? Don't worry. If you're not up on business or sports news, you're not alone.

Plattner, a German who is a giant of the global computer-software industry, is the new sole owner of the Sharks pro-hockey organization. The San Jose-based business owns and operates both the San Jose Sharks of the National Hockey League and its farm team, the Worcester Sharks of the American Hockey League.

In January, Plattner became the exclusive owner of the Sharks enterprise. Two years ago, Forbes estimated his net worth to be $6.7 billion, making him the 10th richest person in Germany. This considerable wealth gives him the deep pockets required to rescue the Sharks, who have been bleeding enough red ink to attract real sharks.

During the 2011-'12 hockey season, the Sharks organization lost $15 million, according to San Jose Mercury News. The NHL lockout, which ended in January, didn’t help matters, the Mercury News noted earlier this month, as the club reported that this season's losses will be "substantially higher than $15 million."

Plattner, who became the Shark's representative to the NHL Board of Governors after buying the rest of business in January, sounds committed to making the entire Sharks family a business and sports champion for the long haul. Should he succeed in doing so, he would become the first owner and operator of a healthy, sustainable pro sports franchise for Worcester.

Worcester's mediocre batting average

Worcester has a mediocre batting average when it comes to retaining pro sports teams. Since first taking to the ice in 2006 at the DCU Center, the Sharks have seemed destined to break the curse.

Less than a year ago, the Worcester Tornadoes pro baseball team, who had won the CanAm League championship in their very first season in 2005, went bankrupt. In 2005, around the time the Tornadoes played their first-ever home at the College of the Holy Cross, the Worcester IceCats pro hockey team fired their last-ever shots on home ice at the DCU Center - five years after placing first for the regular season in the AHL.

And while we're at it, there's the Worcester Brown Stockings pro baseball team, for whom Lee Richmond pitched the first perfect game in Major League Baseball history in 1880 - the first of only three seasons for the team. Because of poor attendance, the National League booted the Brown Stockings – also known as the Ruby Legs - following the 1882 season.

(Despite popular local belief, the Brown Stockings/Ruby Legs did not move to Philadelphia and become the Phillies. Needing an eighth team to balance the schedule, the National League granted an expansion franchise in Philadelphia to the Quakers, who later became the Phillies.)

Last January, Harro Plattner, who had been a majority shareholder of San Jose-based Sharks Sports & Entertainment, assumed the entire Sharks ownership role when he purchased all of the shares held by managing partners Kevin Compton and Stratton Sclavos. At the time, according to Mercury Times, Plattner said he had a standing offer to buy out the interests of others who were part of the group that purchased the team from George Gund III in 2002. Three of those men - former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery, Harvey Armstrong and Floyd Kvamme – had sold their interests to Plattner.

In the weeks since Plattner took over sole control, signs of a major shake-up within the Sharks organization have become readily evident. Last month, Mike Lehr, president and CEO of the Worcester team and executive vice president of development for the parent organization, stepped down. Lehr was joined at that time by both CFO Charlie Faas and Malcolm Bordelon, also an executive vice president of business development. Earlier this month, John Tortora, general counsel of the Sharks organization, was named to the new post of COO. The Sharks reportedly stated at the time that they had “approved a new organizational model designed to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its business and hockey operations."

So far, only the Sharks organization in San Jose has commented for this article. Scot Emmert, director of media relations, says of Plattner’s recent acquisition of all Sharks shares, ““As far as for the goals of the Sharks organization, none of that has changed. He has just taken more of a prominent role in the organization.” Regarding the fate of the Worcester Sharks, Emmert says, “As of today, I wouldn’t think [Plattner] really means do anything” different with the local team.

Asked whether Sharks officials plan to visit Worcester later this summer, Emmert responds, “Not that I’ve been made aware of.” He also says he’s “not sure” of the next time they will stop here.

That said, Eric Lindquist, director of public relations and broadcasting for the Worcester Sharks, reports that “Sharks brass” will meet with local team officials this Friday, June 28. “We would be more than happy to speak with you next Monday,” he adds. 
Meanwhile, the DCU Center, the City Manager's Office and the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce have yet to respond to our interview requests.

Music to the ears of Worcester Sharks fans

Judging from Harro Plattner's recent remarks to one national media outlet, he intends to be a sugar daddy, not a vulture capitalist, in owning and operating the Sharks. This has got to be music to the ears of both Worcester Sharks fans and local charities – not to mention Finz, the Sharks' masticating mascot.

Earlier this year, Plattner said that he will donate all of the assets in his foundation to Bill Gates’ The Giving Pledge, whose uber-elite membership, including Gates and Warren Buffett, dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. “I am happy to be a member of The Giving Pledge,” Plattner told Bloomberg.com at the time. “In this role, I will leverage the entire capital of my foundation with its focus on education, culture, and health in the spirit of the worldwide aspirations of The Giving Pledge.”

Plattner also speaks philanthropically when it comes to the Sharks. In February, after assuming sole ownership of the organization, he agreed to an interview with the Mercury News. They discussed the business of running a hockey franchise that is losing lots of money. "You cannot make money with a hockey team," Plattner said. "You cannot make money with a hotel, either, and you cannot make money with a golf club.” He added with an knowing laugh, “I have all three of them."

According to the Mercury News article, “the new de facto owner of the Sharks doesn't see a dire situation ahead for the franchise, however, with the team typically spending at or near the salary cap despite some financial hardships of the past few seasons. Plattner boasts of his good line of credit and deep pockets, telling team officials and employees they should not be worried about the team.”

Plattner, a hockey fan since he was a kid, told the Mercury News he is committed to maintaining the San Jose Sharks as one of the top teams in the Western Conference of the NHL. “This is just the sort of attitude needed in NHL ownership groups, which has been plagued with poorly-financed businessmen, where a good chunk of franchises have struggled to turn a profit from year to year,” he said.

"We want to continue as much as possible the same way," Plattner said. "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.”

There was no mention in that interview of the Worcester Sharks. However, the lack of public word about the local team may be short-lived. Between now and the start of the 2013-’14 season in October, representatives of the parent company will most likely pay a visit to Worcester. When they do, all of us should know a lot more about Harro Plattner and his plans for our only remaining pro sports team.

Steven Jones-D'Agostino is chief pilot of Best Rate of Climb: Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media and Radio Production.


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