Florida Panthers CEO Matt Caldwell talks the team's turnaround story

As Florida Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov skated around the ice with the Stanley Cup — it marked a dramatic turning point for a long-suffering franchise and fan base.

But the real turning point happened 11 years ago a few months after Barkov was drafted — when Virtu Financial founder Vinnie Viola acquired the team for $250 million.

“The team had struggled with attendance, certainly a lack of winning,” Florida Panthers President and CEO Matt Caldwell told CNBC’s “Last Call” on Friday. “Vinnie … was committed from day one to investing in the team.”

Upon purchasing the last-place Panthers, Viola made his intensions clear at his first official team press conference in 2013.

“My family and I are honored to take the helm of the Florida Panthers organization with the No. 1 goal of putting a winning team on the ice year after year and bringing a Stanley Cup to our incredible fans here in South Florida,” Viola said.

Matthew Tkachuk #19 of the Florida Panthers and Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola celebrate after Florida’s 2-1 victory in Game Seven of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final at Amerant Bank Arena on June 24, 2024 in Sunrise, Florida.

Bruce Bennett | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

After more than a half-decade of inconsistent performance on the ice, a tonal shift for the franchise happened in September 2020, when former player agent Bill Zito was hired as the Panthers’ new general manager.

Gutsy moves by Zito — like bringing in tenacious forward Matthew Tkachuk in a blockbuster trade with the Calgary Flames — proved to be crucial building blocks for the team.

“He’s totally reshaped our hockey operations,” Caldwell said. “We’ve had a lot of consistency the last couple years. To be in back-to-back Stanley Cup finals has been a dream.”

The South Florida market has taken notice of the Panthers’ on-ice success — and that’s translated into impressive revenue growth.

Since the 2021-22 season, attendance has jumped 25.7%, ticket revenue has spiked 50%, and corporate sponsorship revenue has skyrocketed a staggering 123.8%, according to the team.

“It’s been a long grind,” Caldwell said. “I think we always had faith and Vinnie has been tremendous in leading the charge and setting a vision.”

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