These Panthers are prowling the warmer climes in search of hockey fans. Florida Panthers Hockey Club operates the professional hockey team that represents the Miami area in the National Hockey League. The Panthers entered the NHL as an expansion franchise in 1993 and boasts a few playoff berths, including a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1996. (The team lost to the Colorado Avalanche that season.) Wayne Huizenga, who once owned the Miami Dolphins and the Florida Marlins, was awarded the franchise and later sold the team to a group of investors led by Alan Cohen in 2001. Cohen's Sunrise Sports & Entertainment controls the Panthers, as well as its BankAtlantic Center home arena.
The Panthers have historically struggled on the ice, making it harder for the franchise to develop a loyal following in the Miami market. However, Sunshine Sports was able to strike a naming rights deal for the Panthers arena with BankAtlantic Bancorp in 2005 just as the NHL was preparing to return to the ice following the labor strike that scratched the 2004-05 season. The 10-year deal, worth about $27 million, replaced an earlier sponsorship deal with Office Depot.