He leans forward and gnaws his nails. From a luxury box in Raleigh's Entertainment and Sports Arena, Peter Karmanos Jr. locks his eyes on his hockey team. Below, the Carolina Hurricanes battle the Washington Capitals. Skates scrape, wood whacks hard rubber. As luxury seating goes, this is nothing special: a fridge, microwave, sink, a few rows of stadium-style, flip-up seats--nothing that says this is the team owner's box.
It isn't. Karmanos doesn't have one. He sits in an unleased box when he's able to make it to home games, about a dozen times a season. When all 69 luxury boxes are used, rarely the case since the team moved to North Carolina in 1997, he sits where he can find room. "He's said all along if we can sell them all, sell them all," says Jason Karmanos, his son and the team's assistant general manager. "But unfortunately, we've always had one or two that were available."
The Canes have been worth watching of late. They ended this past season in the Stanley Cup finals, hockey's World Series. When the puck is in play, Karmanos' crew keeps quiet. When the Canes are losing, chatting him up, even between periods, is risky. "He's a very passionate, emotional, Greek-tempered guy," says Jim Cain, team president and chief operating officer.
Seeking good luck, members of his entourage--including Jason and Canes General Manager Jim Rutherford--sit in the same seats, relative to each other, as they did the game before. Karmanos sits on the edge of his. So intense is his focus that he doesn't notice his rump sliding past the lip of his seat until it nearly slips off. With no apparent embarrassment, he grabs the armrests, pushes himself back and resumes his vigil as the Hurricanes' No. 1 fan.
His is a costly obsession. He bought the National Hockey League team, then the Hartford Whalers, for $47.5 million in 1994, and the bottom line has run as red as the Canes' road uniforms. The team has lost an estimated $95 million since coming to North Carolina in 1997. Karmanos, chairman and CEO of Compuware, a Michigan-based software-and-computer-services giant, has been absorbing most of the losses. He owns 60% of Gale Force Holdings, the hockey team's parent. Thomas Thewes, Compuware's vice chairman, owns the rest.
Team officials say Karmanos has the wherewithal to take the hits necessary to make the team successful, but nobody likes to lose millions of dollars every year. Karmanos' fortune, estimated by Forbes at $690 million in 1999, isn't limitless, and Compuware is coming off a terrible year, losing $245.3 million in the fiscal year that ended in March. In late June, the company's stock was about $6 a...