Rozner: For Chicago Wolves owner, fans -- not money -- come first
Don Levin did not become a wealthy man by losing money.
And he didn't become a successful businessman by getting beat.
So it may be difficult to comprehend for those who travel in his lofty financial circles, but Levin is never going to make a dollar owning the Chicago Wolves.
He never has. He never will. And he doesn't care.
"I feel like it's a public trust," said Levin, whose Wolves are celebrating 25 years as a franchise this season. "We want this product to be available for people.
"Some say, 'Why don't you raise prices?' We don't want to. It's not to get rich. It's enriching."
That's the essence of the hockey product in Rosemont, the opportunity for Levin to give something to the fans.
"We know people that came to the games 25 years ago and brought their kids, and now those kids are having kids and they're bringing their kids," Levin said with a huge smile. "We see them all the time. It's a lot of fun.
"The other side is the hockey is great. It's fun to watch players develop and then make it big. They're kids when they get here, and then you see them play in the NHL and there's a lot of pride in that."
For the last 25 years, Levin has been there for the Chicago hockey community.
Every time Gary Bettman locks out the NHL players, Levin is there with the Wolves.
When the Blackhawks were terrible for a decade, the Wolves were there.
When NIHL -- the huge youth hockey organization in Illinois -- needed a partner, the Wolves were there with $100,000 a year in sponsorship dollars.
When schools need someone to read to their children, Wolves players are there.
The Wolves' Adopt-A-Dog program, prominent at home games, has found families for 1,500 dogs.
Time and time and time again, Levin has delivered.
"I know it's been 25 years, but it doesn't feel like 25 years," Levin said. "We've done what we wanted to do. We've kept our own identity. We've stayed true to our family-first mantra.
"Our mission was family entertainment at an affordable price. Thank God for our sponsors. They help us keep prices down."
The idea of owning a team was born of a desire to recapture the feeling he had while attending Hawks games at the old Stadium in the 1980s, a desire to feel a part of something again.
"My partner, Buddy Meyers and I, we used to go Hawks games and we knew everyone around us. We all went to our kids' birthday parties together," Levin said. "When I got married, Kathy knew Wednesdays and Sundays I was at hockey games.
"But as time went on and prices started to go up at Hawks games, we lost people. It became more corporate. We lost that community. Buddy and I really missed that environment."
That's how the Wolves were born.
But despite the fact that his billboards made fun of the Hawks' losing ways in the Bill Wirtz-Alpo Suhonen days, he has nothing but love for Rocky Wirtz and the Hawks.
"We were making fun of the way they ran the franchise," Levin said. "There was no need for what happened there.
"But Rocky has changed all that. The Hawks are doing everything right, all the things they should be doing in the community with youth sports. They weren't doing it. We were the ones doing it.
"A year or two ago, the Blackhawks took over the NIHL sponsorship with our blessing. It's something the NHL team should be doing if you want to grow youth hockey in your state.
"And I want the Hawks to do well. I want them to sell out. When you could buy a Hawks ticket on the street for $5, that wasn't good for us. That didn't help us. Truly, I wish them nothing but success."
That's something the Wolves have had plenty of, with 11 division titles, six conference championships and four Turner and Calder Cups.
"The first championship, that was probably the most exciting day of my life," Levin says with a laugh. "I got myself in trouble when I said that it reminded me of the day my son was born. Of course, I heard about that when I got home.
"It's been a great ride. I still like the hockey. Business is objective. Rocky knows. He has some big companies and he's a very smart businessman, but when he loses a game, he feels bad. So do I.
"It's nonsensical, but it keeps you involved. It keeps you hungry. Losing can make you hungry.
"I love it. Hockey's been so much a part of our lives. My son, Robert, was a year old when we got the team. He's 26. Kathy and I have been married 32 years, and hockey's always been a part of everything we do.
"I'm grateful, really, that we had this chance."
That gratitude runs both ways.