Revetas Capital founder and passionate ice hockey fan, Eric Assimakopoulos, is working on a plan to upgrade, modernise, and build new hockey facilities that meet ESG targets in European countries where the game is popular.
Assimakopoulos is still enjoying a successful career in real estate having first come to prominence partnering with Morgan Stanley Real Estate Funds (MSREF) to form Metronexus, a tech-driven real estate investment fund in the US.
In 2002, he then led the acquisition of several major sale-and-leaseback transactions with the Belgian ministry of finance and Tenovis, a KKR portfolio company.
Having spent the majority of the last 23 years in Europe orchestrating real estate deals all over Central & Eastern Europe as CEO of private equity real estate firm, Revetas Capital, he wants to pour energy alongside his mainstream property frm into ice hockey facility investments.
As a youth, he grew up in New York where his love for the sport began. He has kept a 15-year association with hockey alive, even being a major shareholder of professional Slovakian ice hockey club, HC Slovan Bratislava, from 2006 to 2015.
He told PropertyEU: ‘The strategy is to take my skills and real estate experience to work together with the leading ice hockey federations in various countries together with EU funds for sports education and green initiatives.’
Ice hockey arenas are notoriously difficult to make profitable, and are energy-heavy. But Assimakopoulos is determined to provide facilities that can make a financial return and be ESG friendly.
Technology is one way given developments in ice rink construction and maintenance that have occured.
He said: ‘Old rinks around Europe are very heavy on carbon. With ESG playing a more important role in sports, I believe there’s a real opportunity to look at retrofitting, upgrading, modernising, and building new skating facilities that will meet the carbon-neutral standards that we’re trying to achieve around the world.’
‘I would say from my perspective, this is something that I believe in, that I believe should happen, it will happen.’
‘With our experience we can help make it happen because we’re very passionate about real estate. We’re passionate about our ESG initiatives, and we’re passionate about sports.’
A public-private finance approach will be geared towards ESG aims such as assisting sporting clubs to lower energy costs and influence fan behaviour to travel to games using environmentally friendly modes of transport. Energy-saving initiatives could be recuperated from the arena or the owner of the arena in some partnership form, which might also benefit from subsidies guided by the EU.
Though ice hockey arena investments are relatively rare, they are not unheard of.
In Europe, the biggest venue is the Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Germany, where Kölner Haie plays in the top German league.
Showing that such arenas do sometimes attract third-party investors, in 2015 Chinese investment firm, Junson Capital, along with Korean JV partner, Mirae Asset Global Investments acquired the stadium for €440 mln. The deal included an adjacent complex containing car parking, training ground, and offices, some of which are used by the city of Cologne.
The third-biggest hockey stadium is the PostFinance-Arena in Bern, Switzerland, owned by Swiss Prime Site Group, which bought the arena in 2007 and expanded it to become a modern ice hockey stadium while also developing a five-storey office building that is leased to mail courier, Swiss Post.
‘I always want to find ways that I can combine my passion for real estate together with my passion for sports,’ said Assimakopoulos. ‘And if we can put together a strategy to build more energy-efficient ice rinks and rebuild others together with the EU and leading European hockey countries, that would be a pretty exciting achievement.’
But is the game growing in Europe? ‘It’s a good question,’ said Assimakopoulos. ‘I know the ambitions and specifically I know the ambitions of the Slovak Ice Hockey Federation, which is run by legendary NHL player, Miroslav Šatan. They have announced a charter that they would like to develop additional rinks around the country.’
Slovakia has 77 indoor ice surfaces and 27 outdoor rinks, according to Statista. Explained Assimakopoulos: ‘The ice is a really important component, and they cannot grow the sport with existing surfaces. What does that mean? It means that they need more ice surfaces in Slovakia, but it is not easy to do. ‘If they build new ice surfaces, they need to be – and should be – carbon-neutral or energy-efficient and have a low carbon footprint. And one of the ways you can achieve more ice surfaces is if you can build one next to an existing rink.’
‘For example, you can attach a practice rink next to an existing rink so that they can both benefit from using the same technology that you have for the big rink. If you look, for example, at our stadium where we had the World Championships, we built two surfaces next to the main arena that utilise the same infrastructure. So that’s one way you can both add new surfaces and retrofit existing equipment to comply with the environmental part of ESG.’
Assimakopoulos’ passion for hockey has been sustained by many links throughout the game.
He was once asked to participate in sponsoring a charity match coached by legend Stan Mikita and organised by Peter Štastný (Peter the Great), both Slovak ice hockey Hall of Famers. He then got the chance to own HC Slovan Bratislava, who play at the 10,000-capacity, Ondrej Nepela Arena, a 1940s arena that under his watch was fully reconstructed in 2009 together with the city of Bratislava, adding two training surfaces during the ma jor upgrade. The arena hosted the 75th IIHF World Championship in 2011. The venue has a training hall with two ice hockey areas and an underground carpark for 372 cars. A DoubleTree by Hilton hotel operates next to it.
Under his stewardship, Slovan Bratislava won the national championship three times and remains the only team in the country to win back-to-back titles. Further raising the team’s profile, he helped organise several eye-catching events including exhibition matches against the likes of Stanley cup champions, Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL in 2008. It was the first-ever NHL exhibition game in Slovakia, and therefore an historic event. In 2011, the NY Rangers played Slovan Bratislava in a match billed as the NHL versus Europe in the newly reconstructed arena in Bratislava.
Via the old boy hockey network and his connections with the professional game, Assimakopoulos has played in legends games, including the first-ever game in Moscow’s Red Square.
Of the new strategy, he said: ‘We have started some discussions including with ice hockey federations that are focused on youth development and growing the passion for the sport.’
‘I think there’s been very positive feedback. The challenge comes from admission costs and how you gain support from local government or local municipalities. There’s some complexity. My starting point is to create a framework and to share that vision.'
'Then you have to work with a team together with a federation, eventually down to municipalities to share the vision that enables us to develop a programme where there’s a return and a benefit.’
He is prepared to be patient. ‘I expect the strategy to materialise over some years. It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s something that we’ve been working a lot on already for years. And we’ll take a couple more years before we have the right frame work.'
‘It’s like all things. It takes commitment, patience, and an undying focus. The work that Revetas Capital does in Central Europe has been over 20 years now. And it’s still a challenge to educate people about the benefits of the market.'
'So, I would say to you that it continues to be a full-time, long-term strategy and vision.’
He concluded: ‘I’ve been committed to hockey for many years, and I’ve been looking for a way that I can be helpful. To the extent that the desire is there, I can assure you that our commitment will be there. And like all things, I’m not looking for a quick victory. This is something that’s going to take time and we’re going to take the time to help make it happen.’
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A Finnish ice hockey fan in London
There is more than one real estate professional in Europe whose love for hockey has led to ownership involvement. Pertti Vanhanen, former co-global head of real estate at Aberdeen Standard Investments (now called Abrdn) and currently MD Europe of Cromwell Property Group, recently participated in a consortium to rescue Finnish club, Savonlinnan Pallokerho (SaPKo).
Founded in 1929, SaPKo plays its games at the 2,833 capacity Talvisalo rink and has plenty of heritage having once played in Finland’s top-flight league, and its second-tier Mestis league. It has also won the Finnish cup three times. However, the club has since fallen on hard times with Covid being the last straw, culminating in filing for bankruptcy in June 2022. A rescue consortium was put together of which former 1980s Rams player, Vanhanen, was a part of. Speaking to local press about his involvement with the Rams, he said: ‘SaPKo’s significance for Savonlinna is enormous.
You can understand how amazing SaPKo is when you’re out there.’ Apparently, Vanhanen’s father used to take him to SaPKo games. ‘Hockey and SaPKo have been a big part of my life and will continue to be. I’m damn proud of it,’ he said. As a kid he learned to skate on the ice of lake Koijärvi in Toroppala. ‘In the dark, we sometimes had to dig pucks out of the snow in the lights of passing cars.’
He is supporting the club from his home in London on SaPKo’s finance and marketing committees where his career running property businesses will surely help. ‘People need to be proud of SaPKo, both in good and bad moments. It’s great to see in American university cities how game day is reflected in jerseys at the checkouts of shops, for example. The game is an event that unites people. Together we get the better of it and together we win.'
'It’s a big opportunity. This is one way we can put the S in ESG into action. ‘Hopefully, the community, the business community and the city will understand that we are creating something positive and big from scratch.’