If you watched KARE 11's news last night, you saw the first of a two part story and interview with Norm Green, the infamous former owner of the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars by Scott Goldberg.
I had the opportunity to ask Mr. Goldberg some questions about his experience talking to Mr. Green - the first local (Twin Cities) interview since 1993.
Reviled by sports fans in Minnesota for what is perceived as "stealing" the team and moving them to, of all places, Dallas, Mr. Green is certainly a touchstone figure in Minnesota sports history - a history with no shortage of colorful personalities.
Here's what Mr. Goldberg had to say about his experience speaking with Norm Green:
What were your impressions of Mr. Green the man, the business man, the hockey fan?
SG: There’s no doubt he’s a tremendous hockey fan – and proud of what he has accomplished as an owner. He keeps a replica of the Stanley Cup in his suite at the American Airlines Center, where he still watches Dallas Stars games. The cup is from the Calgary Flames 1989 championship, when Green owned 18 percent of the team. His suite also is decorated with North Stars pictures as far back as the 1990-91 season, when he bought the team. And he’s very proud of his championship ring from 1999, when the Stars won. Stars owner Tom Hicks, who had bought the team from Green three years earlier, gave him the ring. As a businessman, Green has done quite well for himself. As a man, I can say he was gracious and quite accommodating from the first phone call I made to him asking about a potential interview.
In your mind was he able to justify the decision to move the team in a satisfactory manner?
SG: Emotion aside, his explanation makes sense. He couldn’t get a new stadium, he couldn’t get money to upgrade the Met Center, a deal had fallen through to move the team to Target Center, he was blocked from building a revenue-generating retail complex between Met Center and the new Mall of America, and he couldn’t generate enough revenue to pay players’ growing salaries. What’s more, even after the North Stars made it to the Stanley Cup finals, fans weren’t buying tickets to the games. The team was averaging about 8,000 a game. He was losing $6 million a year. Don’t forget the previous owners, Gordon and George Gund, wanted to move the team to San Jose before they left here to begin an expansion franchise there.
Did he feel any connection to the Minnesotan hockey/North Stars fan? Obviously he is a business man and his ownership of the team allowed him the right to move them. But was there any sense of letting the fans down?
SG: Yes. He’s certainly well aware of the pain it caused, and he says he never intended to leave Minnesota. He said he loved it here and would still like to be the owner of the North Stars, in Minnesota, in a great building. He feels like he did all he could to get fans interested, but they didn’t respond. So he was scared, if he stayed, he would keep losing money.
Was the decision to move purely a business decision (ie no new building)?
SG: Yes, that’s what he said. He moved his family here from Calgary and said he intended to stay here. When I asked him what Minnesotans should know about him, he said “I tried my best.”
I think one of the things that is most galling to Minnesotans is the fear that they played a role in Mr. Green deciding to move the team. For example, that attendance figures translated to fan base erosion or apathy. Is it possible, from talking with him, to allay those fears?
SG: Well, like I mentioned before, Green makes it clear the fan support wasn’t there. I think many North Star fans feel, despite low turnout at games, Green should have respected their emotional connection to the team. “You can’t take hockey out of the State of Hockey” is what I hear over and over – that having professional hockey here is somehow a birthright, regardless of the financial reality. That said, I certainly don’t think fans are the only people to blame. The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission and the legislature could have stepped in with money for stadium improvements or a new stadium. But fans played a role. It’s a chicken-and-egg thing; either fans weren’t going because the team stopped winning and the venue was bad, or the team stopped winning and the venue was bad because fans weren’t going. Either way, the North Stars were losing money, and that’s not a sustainable business model.
What are Mr. Green's impressions of the Minnesota Wild franchise/organization?
SG: He has nothing but glowing things to say about the Wild, their management and their stadium. In fact, everyone I interviewed for this story (many of them now with the Dallas Stars) believe the Wild franchise is an outstanding example of hockey done right. Perhaps the best in the league. Green, though he hasn’t been to the building, said it’s “gorgeous.” He also suggests his decision to take hockey out of Minnesota is the trigger that ultimately woke up fan support for an NHL franchise here.
Did you get the sense that he would have liked to try to make NHL hockey work in Minnesota, or that he would have changed places with Mr. Naegele if he could have?
SG: Yes. Based on our conversations, I think he would have been thrilled to be able to hold onto the team, move into a building like the Xcel Center, and enjoy the kind of success the Wild have in Minnesota. In the end, moving the Stars to Dallas certainly worked out for him. But he appeared to be happy with his life here – he lived on Lake Minnetonka, played golf, and said would have stayed here if he could have.
Was the Stanley Cup win in Dallas rewarding to him?
SG: Of course. I think, because he’s from Calgary, that 1989 cup was slightly more meaningful. But it’s clear he’s very proud of the Stars’ accomplishments in Dallas, and he wears his ring with pride. Perhaps as much as (or maybe more than) the Stanley Cup, I think he’s thrilled to know he brought the game to a state where there only was one ice rink before the NHL arrived. Now, 8,000 kids are playing in organized leagues in Texas, and the Stars are the premier “Sun Belt” franchise in the league.
Why do you think Mr. Green agreed to participate in this story? What did he want to convey to your viewers?
SG: That’s a great question. He didn’t want to rip open old wounds, but I do think a part of him felt like he never was given a fair shot at explaining his side of the story to Minnesotans. He also, I think, feels somewhat vindicated by his decision to move the team because hockey is now stronger than ever in Minnesota.
Here's a link to KARE 11's page on the story, with extended video of the interview.
My thanks to Mr. Goldberg for going out of his way to make time for me on this. It's certainly a topic that Minnesotan hockey fans are interested in.