Todd Halloran has been interested in purchasing a minor league hockey team for several years.
Having grown up in Boston and now working for a private equity investment firm in Connecticut, Halloran had limited his search to the Northeast.
There was one area of the country, and one team in particular, Halloran would make an exception for – the Lowcountry and the South Carolina Stingrays.
Halloran, 54, purchased a majority stake in the ECHL franchise from the Zucker family of Charleston. The team announced the transaction during a press conference Tuesday at the North Charleston Coliseum. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Anita Zucker and her son Jonathan have been a part of the Stingrays’ ownership group since 1994 and took over sole control of the ECHL franchise in 2011. The Zuckers will maintain a minority interest in the club.
“Because of geography, I was originally only interested in teams in the Northeast,” Halloran said. “One of the few exceptions was this market and this team. When I got a call about this opportunity from the (ECHL) commissioner’s office, I jumped at it.”
The Stingrays, who are celebrating their 25th season in the Lowcountry this year, are the second-longest tenured franchise in the ECHL. South Carolina was founded as an expansion team in 1993 with Joseph Scanlon serving as the franchise’s first president and chief executive officer. NHL Hall of Famer Marcel Dionne was the team’s general manager, while Rick Vaive was the club’s first head coach.
A local investment group led by the Zuckers, Edwin Pearlstine, Harvey Nathan, Lynn Bernstein and the Greenwald family of Seabrook Island took over ownership of the club in 1994.
After more than two decades with the Stingrays, Jonathan Zucker said the time was right to bring in new blood and fresh ideas to the organization. The Zucker family are the primary owners of The InterTech Group, one of the largest privately held companies in the nation.
“Twenty-five years marks a time to reflect, and when we looked back on the legacy that we’ve left here, we felt like this was a good time for a transition,” Jonathan Zucker said. “There’s a lot going on in this market. It’s a tremendous opportunity from a growth perspective, and I think my mother and I are bit distracted by our primary business and don’t have the opportunity to spend as much effort and time as we would like on the team. We wanted to do the responsible thing for the future of the team.”
Finding the right owner was crucial, he said.
“Todd has an incredible passion for hockey and he has a great commitment to the Charleston community,” Jonathan Zucker said. “That was very important to us when we looked for a partner. We really thought now was the right time to bring in some fresh energy and to bring in some additional experience and commitment to the organization. We’ve got a tremendous partner in Todd.”
Halloran said he has no plans to move the team or replace president Rob Concannon or coach Ryan Warsofsky.
“I think I’m smart enough to know when I see a successful organization, and this is one of the most successful organizations, not only in hockey, but in minor league sports around the country,” Halloran said. “Their record speaks for itself, so there are no plans to make any changes. I picked this opportunity partially because of the location.”
Halloran said he’s looking to purchase a house in the area.
“My intention is to spend a lot of time here,” he said. “I will have a home here and I plan to be in the area year-round.”
The Stingrays routinely sold out the North Charleston Coliseum in their first two seasons, averaging more than 9,000 fans per game. But as the novelty of the sport waned, attendance dropped. This year, the Stingrays averaged 3,921 fans per game, which was up about 10 percent from the 2016-17 season.
In 2015, Jonathan Zucker said the Stingrays were losing between $400,000 and $700,000 each year since the team was established in 1993. He added that even when the Stingrays drew 9,000 fans per game, the team did not break even.
That knowledge didn’t scare Halloran away from making the deal.
“I think there is an opportunity to grow the fan base and improve and enhance the corporate partnerships, particularly in this community because it’s growing tremendously,” Halloran said. “There are only so many sports venues that give companies the opportunity to broadcast their brands, their services and their names. I think the future is very promising, and with a little more focus, some refinement of strategy, and a little more investing in resources and people, this is a very sustainable economic model.”
The Stingrays recently signed a new three-year lease with North Charleston and the coliseum. The Stingrays currently pay about $5,000 per game to play at the North Charleston Coliseum, where the team plays 38 to 42 games annually. The city will increase the team's license fee by 20 percent during the second year, from $5,000 to $6,000. The city will increase the fee by an additional 20 percent during the third year, from $6,000 to $7,200.
“We were already trying to find a meaningful way forward before the issues with the lease and the city came up,” Zucker said. “Our goal was to make sure we had a place to play, so we didn’t put a lot of discussion into the new lease. We wanted Todd to be able to come in, get to know the area and the people and do his own negotiations with the city.”
The Stingrays can opt out of the lease at the end of next season and renegotiate the deal.
Growing up in Boston, Halloran has been a lifelong Boston Bruins fan. The Stingrays have been affiliated with the Washington Capitals for more than a decade.
“I’m quickly becoming a Washington Capitals fans,” Halloran joked.
The Stingrays have won three ECHL Kelly Cup championships and have been to the playoffs a league-record 24 times. South Carolina has played for the league title in two of the past three seasons.
South Carolina, which set a single-season record with 48 wins during the regular-season, will face the Orlando Solar Bears Thursday night in Game 3 of the South Division semifinals. The Stingrays trail the best-of-seven series 2-0.