May 13, 2021

Alexandra Beer House

The Real Estate Experts

Dallas Stars CEO lands his dream job in a nightmare scenario

Nine months ago, Brad Alberts was named CEO of the Dallas Stars — the culmination of a 20-plus-year quest to be the guy in charge of a major professional sports team.

“Did I always have my eye on this prize? Short answer is yes,” Alberts said in one of a series of interviews over the past two weeks. “But you never know if it’s going to become a reality. I’m one of 30 people in the world who has one of these very exclusive NHL roles, and a lot of things have to come into play for you to get one.”

Alberts just wishes the timing had been better.

The 51-year-old is living his dream job in the midst of a nightmare.

The franchise was on its way to its best revenue year ever when the pandemic laid waste to professional sports.

The club had to furlough about half of its 900-plus employees. The large majority, but not everyone, has been brought back.

“I don’t even know how to describe what we’ve had to navigate through this year,” Alberts said. “Our league has done a really good job of trying to get cash to the teams to pay the players while all of our revenue streams are either shut down completely or significantly reduced. Our ability to generate revenue compared to normal circumstances has been staggering.”

Alberts is lesser known in North Texas business circles than other commanders of local pro sports franchises for two key reasons: He worked his way up through the less-glamorous sales side, and he’s walked in the shadow of Jim Lites, the Stars’ formidable CEO for the past decade.

But he’s considered a business power player in the hockey industry.

Alberts works closely with general manager Jim Nill, who in seven seasons has guided the Stars to four playoff runs, including a trip to the 2020 Stanley Cup Finals in September.

Lites promoted Alberts to president in 2018, handing over day-to-day operations and hoping to fend off the headhunters who were calling Lites for permission to talk to Alberts.

“Then when COVID hit, it was clear that the timing was right for me to take a step up and away so that Brad could consolidate his responsibilities as president and CEO, which he’s done admirably,” Lites said.

Stars owner Tom Gaglardi agrees.

“Brad’s done a marvelous job since the day he came to the Stars in 2012,” said the 53-year-old, who lives in Vancouver and hasn’t been able to travel to Dallas since March 2019 because of NHL COVID-19 protocols.

“Brad’s the right guy,” Gaglardi said. “He’s a modern leader with a nice young team of people. He’s demonstrated a full capability in all areas of the business. Certainly, it’s been reassuring to have him down there while I’m stuck up here.”

At a recent home game, Alberts scanned the scant “capacity crowd” at American Airlines Center. “This is so weird,” he said. “I became the overall head of this organization at probably its most difficult time. Our business isn’t normal. We can only seat 4,000 people at the AAC, not 18,000.

“We can’t fix the problems that the pandemic has created for our business until we’re through the pandemic, and we’re not through it. I can’t let my mind go too far out. We’ve got to stay in the moment and deal with what we’re dealing with. But we are approaching next season like this is going to be over and we’re going to get back to full capacity.”

Dallas Stars fans stand for the national anthem during the last home game of the regular season at American Airlines Center on April 27.(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

Hockey Town South

The Stars have branded Dallas as “Hockey Town South.”

But Alberts is intent on removing that geographic limitation by showing that this market — in terms of local interest, sponsorships and enticing kids to play the sport — is ready to compete with traditional markets up North where hockey is a way of life.

To do that, he’s made a full-press effort to host the sport’s most visible events.

On Monday night, Alberts surveyed the 10 national flags hanging from the rafters of the team’s Comerica Arena in Frisco with a sense of satisfaction.

Team USA was about to square off with Team Russia in the preliminary round of the 2021 IIHF Under-18 World Championship — the premier international tournament that showcases some of the best young players on the planet.

The 11-day championship runs through Thursday.

It’s only the third time in 23 tournaments that the International Ice Hockey Federation has held its marquee event in the United States — and the first time in the South.

“This is a really, really awesome event to bring to Frisco, Texas,” Alberts said. “The fact that we’re hosting the best under-18 kids in the world in an Olympic-style tournament says that Dallas is a hockey city.”

Team USA approached the bench during a break in the action in the first period of the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship at the Comerica Arena on Monday in Frisco.
Team USA approached the bench during a break in the action in the first period of the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship at the Comerica Arena on Monday in Frisco.(Stewart F. House / Special Contributor)

At Alberts’ side was Marty Turco, the Stars’ former All-Star goalie who now heads the Dallas Stars Foundation. He pointed to dozens of NHL scouts and general managers with touchscreens, notepads and spreadsheets scoping out the 17- and 18-year-olds ahead of the entry draft in July.

It was just four months ago when USA Hockey, the country’s governing body for organized ice hockey, asked if the Stars could handle a last-minute, COVID-inflicted venue change from the organization’s arena in Plymouth, Mich.

Alberts said, “Heck yeah!”

Last week, Alberts and his management crew proved that they could.

“These things are usually planned out years in advance,” said Pat Kelleher, executive director of USA Hockey. COVID-19 travel restrictions meant that all of the groundwork had to be done by the folks in Frisco, he said. “The Stars have done such a great job over the years in growing the game and building the facilities here. And now to bring in a world championship with 10 countries represented is nothing short of incredible.”

It’s the third marquee event Alberts has scored.

He was instrumental in luring the NHL Entry Draft to American Airlines Center in June 2018 and the NHL Winter Classic to the Cotton Bowl in January 2020.

The NHL folks in New York were nervous about whether Dallas could fill the Fair Park stadium for its only outdoor regular-season game.

But Alberts’ persistence paid off a few months later, when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the classic was headed to Big D on New Year’s Day.

“I knew the risks that we were taking, but I also knew that we could pull it off,” Alberts said. “We sold out in a couple of days. We needed some weather luck, and we got it, and 85,000 people saw a hockey game in Dallas, Texas. It couldn’t have gone better.”

Phone room to C-suite

Alberts, who’s 6-foot-5, was a college basketball superstar, scoring 1,865 points at Ripon College, about two hours north of the small town in southern Wisconsin where he grew up.

Dallas Stars CEO Brad Alberts is shown in 1992 when he was a college basketball superstar at Ripon College in Ripon, Wisc.
Dallas Stars CEO Brad Alberts is shown in 1992 when he was a college basketball superstar at Ripon College in Ripon, Wisc.

He followed Kate, his girlfriend and now wife of 22 years, to Dallas in 1995. He’d just completed his master’s degree in sports administration from the University of Northern Colorado and was keen on working for a professional sports organization.

He landed a job with the Stars as an entry-level ticket-sales rep even though he’d never seen an NHL game.

That’s when Lites spotted him.

“Brad’s worked for me pretty much from the time he was 23 years old,” Lites said last week. “We hired Brad selling in the phone room right out of college. It was very clear from the outset that Brad Alberts was special. He had great people skills, and was really good at selling.”

Under Lites’ tutelage, Alberts marched his way up through the sales and advertising ranks at the Stars and the Texas Rangers during the Tom Hicks ownership era.

Lites and Alberts drifted away from the Hicks sports organization during its traumatic bankruptcy years.

When Gaglardi bought the Stars out of bankruptcy just before Thanksgiving in 2011, the 44-year-old Vancouver native immediately rehired Lites to restore the franchise.

Lites’ first serious call was to Alberts, asking him to reprise his role with the hockey team with the understanding that Alberts would be his understudy but would have great latitude in decision-making.

“Brad’s a really good listener,” Lites said. “He makes decisions and sticks by them. He’s very supportive of his people, and the people who work for Brad are very loyal to him. He’s a good delegator — you kinda have to be to get to this role.”

When Alberts arrived on the scene, the franchise had all the markings of a bankrupt company.

“The people who were left here, their eyes were like this,” Alberts said, encircling his eyes with his hands like goggles. “The facilities here were dated. You could tell there had been no investment in them financially. When I looked at the numbers, my eyes got this big, too,” making his goggle hands again. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what happened here?’ “

He knew the club couldn’t fix everything at once, so he made a checklist of the things they needed to attack and started crossing them off one by one.

The Stars clawed their way out of bankruptcy, doubling the number of season-ticket holders, tapping into North Texas’ rich corporate sponsorship base and increasing premium suite sales.

At the end of 2020, Forbes magazine ranked the Stars as the 12th-most valuable NHL team, placing a hypothetical price tag of $575 million on the club.

Although that was down from Forbes’ historic high estimate of $600 million the previous year, the Stars remained the most valuable franchise in the NHL’s nontraditional hockey markets, including Las Vegas, St. Louis, Nashville, Tampa Bay, Columbus and Phoenix.

And it was more than twice what the club was worth when Gaglardi bought it for $240 million in late 2011.

“Since Tom bought the team and where we sit today —- throw COVID out — the financial condition of the Dallas Stars has significantly improved, and I mean significantly, in overall earnings, top-line revenue and franchise valuation,” Alberts said.

What about this year?

”This year, we’re going to lose money for sure. Absolutely,” Alberts said. “This is a whole new dynamic.”

A beautiful friendship

In 2012, Turco closed out his NHL career with the Boston Bruins and returned to Dallas to figure out what to do post-hockey. Alberts offered what Turco calls “a hanger-on” position — sort of a team ambassador who came into the office when it suited him.

“I’d done a little TV for the Stars, and I was just trying to find my way,” Turco said. “After a couple of seasons, Brad called me in and said, ‘You want to work full time? But you’ve gotta work. Your playing status is over.’”

Turco turned down Alberts until three years ago, when Alberts became club president and presented his vision for community outreach through the Dallas Stars Foundation.

“I wanted something that I could be 100% committed to,” Turco said. “And when Brad presented his ideas and talked about what the rest of the company would look like, I said, ‘Yeah, this feels right.’”

But Turco wanted to carry his weight. “I’d look at our bullpen of young sales staff and think, ‘Some of these people in their mid-20s have more experience than I do in the business world.’ I had to put my nose down and start learning the business.”

Turco’s been a remarkable student, Alberts said. “There’s no professional athlete that I’ve ever met who has figured out how to transition from being a high-end player in the NHL to the business side better than him,” Alberts said.

“Brad is a leader,” Turco said, returning the love. “He’s great to work for. He’s opened the door and helped me learn the business as much as I wanted.”

They’re both serious golfers who often play together. Alberts has a handicap of 1. Turco smugly says his is 0.45. And yes, they bet to make it interesting.

“We’re both pretty good players for having day jobs,” Alberts said. “Marty Turco is a guy if I weren’t working here I’d still be in contact with. I love that guy.”

Focus on youth

The Stars probably wouldn’t have gotten that call from USA Hockey about hosting the under-18 world championship had it not been for the team’s reputation for nurturing youth hockey.

That focus on developing young players is important to Alberts and part of the reason he asked Turco to run the foundation.

The Stars own and manage 16 sheets of ice in Mansfield, Farmers Branch, Richardson, McKinney, Euless, Plano, Frisco and Valley Ranch. More than 15,000 kids participate in its programs, and 13% of them are girls.

“There’s no sports team today — not just hockey — that accomplishes what we do for the youth and how we service them,” Turco said.

Students competed in 2019 as the Dallas Stars Foundation hosted the annual Field Day for St. Philip's School and Community Center at the Cotton Bowl. The event was part of the team's Legacy Project for the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
Students competed in 2019 as the Dallas Stars Foundation hosted the annual Field Day for St. Philip’s School and Community Center at the Cotton Bowl. The event was part of the team’s Legacy Project for the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

The Stars Foundation named St. Philip’s School and Community Center the beneficiary of its Winter Classic Legacy project, committing $2 million over five years.

But Terry Flowers, St. Philip’s headmaster and executive director, says the Stars’ involvement goes way beyond money.

“It’s a family affair,” Flowers said. “Brad and his wife, Marty and his wife, the Stars players and their families, are all in — helping with community clean-ups, assisting in our community garden as well as supporting our after-school care and summer-care programming for kids in the neighborhood.”

The Stars are helping St. Philip’s formulate plans to expand its athletic complex, he said. “And their support also brings inspiration for others to take an interest in what’s happening here and in our community.”

So are the Stars thinking about building a rink in South Dallas?

“I’ve got big thoughts,” Turco said. “We’re in the position now to really entertain growing the game there, especially from a community outreach perspective. We know that we’ll have to offer more foundation help because hockey is expensive. But we need to get skates on kids in South Dallas and get them coaches.”

The Stars Foundation named St. Philip's School and Community Center the beneficiary of its Winter Classic Legacy project, committing $2 million over five years. A portion of the $2 million will go to a new multisport athletic complex. Shown with St. Philip's students at a groundbreaking ceremony on Dec. 31, 2019 are (from left) Stars Foundation president Marty Turco, NHL executive VP of marketing Brian Jennings, Stars CEO Brad Alberts, Stars forward Denis Gurianov, goaltender Anton Khuodobin, defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, center Jason Dickinson and St. Philip's headmaster Dr. Terry Flowers.
The Stars Foundation named St. Philip’s School and Community Center the beneficiary of its Winter Classic Legacy project, committing $2 million over five years. A portion of the $2 million will go to a new multisport athletic complex. Shown with St. Philip’s students at a groundbreaking ceremony on Dec. 31, 2019 are (from left) Stars Foundation president Marty Turco, NHL executive VP of marketing Brian Jennings, Stars CEO Brad Alberts, Stars forward Denis Gurianov, goaltender Anton Khuodobin, defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, center Jason Dickinson and St. Philip’s headmaster Dr. Terry Flowers.

AT A GLANCE: Brad Alberts

Title: President and CEO of the Dallas Stars and Texas Stars

Age: 51

Grew up: Southern Wisconsin

Resides: Southlake

Education: Bachelor of arts in history, Ripon College, 1992; master’s of sports administration, University of Northern Colorado, 1995

Personal: Married to Kate for 22 years. They have a 15-year-old daughter.

Marty Turco

Titles: President and chairman of the Dallas Stars Foundation; CEO of Kingsville Brewing Co., Ontario

Age: 45

Grew up: Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

Education: Studied kinesiology and exercise science at the University of Michigan, 1994-98

Resides: Highland Park and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

Professional hockey career: 1998 through 2012

Personal: Married to Kelly for 20 years. They have two daughters, 19 and 17, and a son, 12.

Dallas Stars

Founded: 1993

Ownership: Tom Gaglardi since November 2011

2019-20 gross revenue: Approaching $200 million

Estimated franchise value: $575 million

SOURCES: Dallas Stars and Forbes magazine

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Dallas financier Bobby Haas poses with partner and museum director Stacey Mayfield in the main exhibit hall of his Haas Moto Museum & Sculpture Gallery in the Design District in Dallas. Haas has made a documentary film called “Leaving Tracks” about the world of rare and custom motorcycles.