Andreas Johansson has aspired to own a professional hockey franchise for many years.
That dream became reality as the Watertown Wolves have been purchased by Johansson, a real estate investor known for his interactions with famous sports figures, the team announced Thursday.
Federal Prospects Hockey League commissioner Don Kirnan, who has owned the Wolves since 2016, sold the majority interest in the franchise to Johansson, who recently moved to Upstate New York to be involved in managing the team.
“I think it’s a great franchise,” Johansson said of the Wolves. “It’s been well managed and I think there’s a lot to build on.”
The sale was effective Wednesday. No sales figures were released.
“I have been working with Don for years, researching opportunities for the league to grow, as well as looking to acquire a franchise for myself,” Johansson said. “When the opportunity to buy the team in Watertown came up, I felt I had to jump on that immediately. Don has built a great team here, both on and off the ice, and I look forward to keep building on that.”
Johansson, 34, originally from Sweden, began investing in real estate in his early 20s and holds a list of partners and clients that include sports figures from around the world, including Olympic and Super Bowl champions, according to his Linkedin biography. He partnered with former NBA player Dennis Rodman in releasing “The Original Bad Ass Vodka” in 2013.
“Basically, he has a lot of contacts, he’s involved with a lot of celebrities he represents and he’s got businesses all over the country and contacts all over the world,” Kirnan said of Johansson. “Basically it’s a good fit for what he wanted to do. He’s been looking for a team in the league for two years.”
Kirnan will retain a minority stake in the team, the Wolves said, and serve as an adviser to Johansson.
“The most successful time the team has had is certainly the last two or three years,” Kirnan said. “And I think he can take it to another level or two with some of his resources.”
Johansson recently moved to Pittsford, a Rochester suburb, from Florida and has valuable connections in the hockey world, Kirnan said.
“I’ve grown up always as a huge hockey fan, so this was something that I was looking at,” said Johansson, who is the CEO of Berkovitz Development Group in Florida, a real estate development company.
Johansson attended several Wolves games this past season and was impressed with what he saw in the team and its fan base.
“I went up quite a few times,” Johansson said of visiting Watertown. “Once I could kind of see where things were going, where we probably were going to get things done, I went up a few times during the season. I’ve seen them (the Wolves) when they’ve had a pretty packed house and I’ve seen them on a Wednesday night.
“I’ve seen how it operates, I’ve seen the workers, he’s got a good team and it’s running well.”
Johansson said he was also impressed with Watertown Municipal Arena, home of the Wolves’ franchise since its first season in 2014-15.
“I love it,” he said. “Because even if you’ve 800 or 900 people in there, because it’s so small and the way it’s done, it’s like an illusion. Even if it’s not packed, it still feels busy and I hoping we’ll be able to do a couple things to drive in even more fans to make it more packed and make it a great atmosphere. ... I really think we can make it pretty special.”
The Wolves said Johansson and new ownership is already looking to make improvements by working with the city to install a video board, which would be adjacent to the scoreboard.
“We have the best housing in the league, and the setup for players off the ice, will enable us to recruit top class talent going into the new season,” Johansson said.
Watertown, which has qualified for the playoffs in each of its five seasons in the league, finished in third place in the Eastern Division standings this past season.
“Every time I’ve seen the Wolves play, the team’s competitive,” Johansson said. “And we’re going to try and make it even more competitive, and bring it up to the standard of Danbury and Carolina. I like the small rink, in a way you can’t really grow it that much, but if you get a packed house every night, that’s the goal.”
The Wolves’ regular season ended three weeks early after the FPHL canceled its season, as well as playoffs, on March 16 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Kirnan purchased the Watertown franchise in 2016 from a local ownership group that had owned the original team franchise since 2014.
Watertown has won the league title twice — the only franchise in league history to do so — in 2014-15 and 2017-18.
The sale allows Kirnan to focus more on his duties as commissioner for the growing FPHL.
“Obviously I have a warm regard for Watertown,” Kirnan said. “But the league responsibility, we nearly doubled in size last year and I wasn’t smart enough to realize when the league doubles in size you get double the amount of work. So I really was burning the candle at both ends, so it was very difficult to keep operating the league and operate a team as well, it was really getting to be too much.”
Johansson added: “At first, it’s kind of a daunting thing, but when you look at the FHL and you see the model, I’m not doing this to make money, I don’t think I will. I don’t think I’ll lose money ... but I’m doing this because I love the game, I love to compete, I love what I see in Watertown, this is what hockey should be like.”