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Pride in Ownership

Times Staff Writer

Between them, Henry and Susan Samueli have two doctorates, a bachelor of arts degree, a bachelor of science and a master’s. Both have had impressive careers: Henry, an electrical engineer, was a professor of electrical engineering at UCLA and is the co-founder, board chairman and chief technical officer of Broadcom. Susan was a systems engineer at IBM until she left to raise the couple’s three daughters.

They also have a net worth of $1.6 billion, according to Forbes, making Henry the world’s 413th-richest man. That takes into account the $180 million they’ve donated since 1998 to educational, cultural and religious organizations, including $30 million to UCLA and $20 million to UC Irvine.

What they don’t have is experience owning a sports franchise. Or much knowledge of hockey.

But their love of sports and their commitment to the area they’ve called home for a decade led them to buy the Mighty Ducks from the Walt Disney Co., a deal that was approved last week by the NHL’s Board of Governors. The Samuelis, who said their goal is to have “the best hockey team in the western United States,” will introduce Brian Burke as the Ducks’ new general manager and announce other staff appointments today at a news conference at the Arrowhead Pond.

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They didn’t originally intend to own the Ducks, they said in an interview Saturday at the Corona del Mar office of H&S; Ventures, the company that handles their investments. But after they purchased the management contract for the Pond in 2003 they concluded that it made business sense to control the arena’s main tenant, even though the Ducks had lost $12 million during their march to the Stanley Cup finals in 2002-03 and $28 million in 2003-04.

“It turned out there were multiple bidders for the team, and it turned out we were the only ones who were Orange County members of the community,” Henry Samueli said. “There was a risk.... There were a couple of potential bidders who were talking about moving the team out to another state so we didn’t want to see the Mighty Ducks leave Orange County, both as members of the community and as operators of the Arrowhead Pond.”

The Disney Ice practice facility, included in the $75-million purchase price, will be renamed Anaheim Ice, but the Ducks will keep their name next season because the NHL requires longer notice for such changes. The Samuelis said they might conduct a “name the team” contest for the next season.

“That’s a great way to get fans involved and see if they even want a name change,” Susan Samueli said. “And if the fans love everything about the Mighty Ducks, and the colors, it will stay that way.”

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They say they’re sure the community will again warm up to the Ducks, who have slipped below the radar during the labor dispute that led NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to cancel the season. Henry Samueli said Bettman gave them “no assurances at all” that a new collective bargaining agreement will include a salary cap yet he still believes the NHL will return with a strong base and an enhanced product that will lure fans back to the Pond and other arenas.

“We believe the Orange County community is one of the premier communities in the country for sports and entertainment. You look at the population, close to 4 million, and the affluence here,” Henry Samueli said. “There’s no question in my mind that Orange County can support a professional sports team.

“Couple that with the fact that we’re hoping that a CBA does come in place that puts in the appropriate economic measures, like salary caps, etc., to allow a balance to occur in the league so that teams are competitively balanced, coupled with the financial business model that makes sense. We’re very confident, very confident that this team can for sure not lose money and even, hopefully, make money over time.”

Forming a partnership in a regional sports TV network is a common avenue for sports teams to make money, but Henry Samueli said he hadn’t discussed such a venture.

“Clearly that’s something down the road to discuss, but that wasn’t a factor at all in the decision to buy the team,” he said. “We’ll have to work out the economics of the television contracts long-term because I think that’s something the league needs to fix. We need to create more of a draw from a television audience to increase the potential for TV contracts.”

Once the Ducks are set on a new course, the Samuelis plan to renew the Pond’s long-futile search for an NBA tenant and will “consider any viable opportunity to entice a team to relocate to Orange County,” Henry Samueli said. He described NBA Commissioner David Stern as receptive to the idea. “He said clearly, Orange County is a viable independent market, independent of Los Angeles, that could support a basketball team,” Samueli said.

However, Samueli said he has no plans to become involved in an effort to bring an NFL team to Southern California.

Ralph J. Cicerone, chancellor of UC Irvine -- site of the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine -- said he was surprised the couple bought the Ducks because Henry “really likes basketball,” plays once a week in a men’s league and attends Laker, UC Irvine and UCLA games. But Cicerone expects both to immerse themselves in hockey.

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“They are very energetic people, who keep up on everything,” Cicerone said. “Not much news passes them by. They’re very aware of what’s going on. They will probably become experts in the sport a lot faster than people think.”

Henry Samueli was born in Buffalo, N.Y., to parents who survived the Holocaust and emigrated to the U.S. from Poland in 1950. The family moved to Southern California when he was 10 and he grew up in West Hollywood; he earned three degrees from UCLA and put them to use working in the defense industry.

In 1988 he co-founded PairGain Technologies, a telecommunications equipment manufacturer, and in 1991 joined Henry T. Nicholas to found Broadcom, a provider of semiconductors that facilitate the digital transmission of voice, data and video content. Broadcom, which went public in 1998, had revenue of $2.4 billion in 2004.

Susan Samueli was raised in the San Fernando Valley and earned a mathematics degree from UC Berkeley. She was working for IBM and he for TRW when they met at a dance organized by the temple they attended. “My life is technology,” he said. “I’m a geek.”

Susan Samueli laughed. “But not a nerd,” she said.

They’ll set a budget for the Ducks that will depend on the new labor agreement but won’t get involved in day-to-day operations.

“We’re in this for the long term,” Susan Samueli said, “and I imagine every year we’re going to be more and more excited.”

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Times staff writer Chris Foster contributed to this report.


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