An interview with the game’s Norseman, David Kjeldsen

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APTA President Mark Fischl met with 2008 Hall of Fame inductee, David Kjeldsen, and discussed the recent sale of Viking Athletics to Prince.

MF: David, there has obviously been a lot happening in your life of late. Is it true that you are selling Viking Athletics to Prince?
DCK: Yes.

MF: Are you excited by it? Are you working less now?
DCK: Excited yes. Very excited. I have been working harder in the last few months than I have in the last couple of years. There is so much information to share with and transfer to the great staff at Prince.

MF: Is it true you talked with other companies before selling to Prince?
DCK: Mark, I am not comfortable talking about that. It’s not proper to talk about those that you dated in the past on your wedding day.

MF: What will this sale mean to the platform tennis community?
DCK: The platform tennis community will benefit in a number of ways. The first being technology. As you know, I was a “one man band” at Viking. Now with the staff at Prince the dreams and concepts I had for paddles, they can and will become reality because their R&D staff is phenomenal. That said, my wife is already planning a trip to Italy [Note 1] to visit them! Second, and what really sold me on partnering with Prince, is they really want to give back to the sport to see it grow. They are excited not only about continuing our initiatives with the juniors but growing them.

MF: What were the over-riding factors that made you decide to sell the company?
DCK: There were a number of factors that went into to making the decision. First, as you know I have had some serious health issues over the last few years. It’s hard to run a business while continually looking over your shoulder wondering whether the health issues will pop up again. Second, as much as I wanted to keep all our manufacturing here in America, the comparative cost advantage that my competitors enjoyed was becoming so overwhelming that I knew I needed to partner with talent that could bring my costs into line with those of my competition in order to keep the brand alive. Finally, traveling to as many tournaments and events each season as I do, my age is making it more and more difficult to have the energy to keep the pace up.

MF: How will Prince impact Viking?
DCK: There will be many changes. First and foremost, we are moving all of Viking Athletics from Long Island to Prince’s new, larger, and modern campus in Bordentown, New Jersey. Two, our dealers will have a greatly expanded customer service group to work with. While I won’t be answering the phones anymore, Christine Dalton and her great staff will be bringing Viking’s customer service to a new level. Three, Viking will be have a much broader line to offer players in years to come.

MF: Will you be continuing on with Prince or are you retiring?
DCK: Retiring I don’t think so!! I still have two of my three children to put through college. I hope to be working with the folks at Prince for many years to come; I need to! To be frank, I would not have entered into discussions with any group if I weren’t going to be part of the organization going forward.

MF: So, what’s going to happen with the name Viking? Will it disappear?
DCK: No, quite the opposite. The Viking name and brand will not only continue, but also, in fact, it will become even stronger and develop worldwide recognition as Prince’s global presence helps us enter into the sports of padel, paddle tennis, and paddleball.

MF: Will your product line change?
DCK: In the broad sense and in the short term the answer is no. Viking will still offer paddles, balls, and accessories to the paddle community. Within each product group, as we are able to take advantage of Prince’s R&D and buying power, I am confident we will expand the offerings within each category. As time goes on I am sure we will add clothing and shoes to our product mix.
MF: What will happen to the OZ?
DCK: Well, Mark, as you know the OZ has been the best selling paddle on the market for the last 12 years and last season we celebrated the manufacture of our 25,000th one. I don’t foresee anything happening to it. That said, as our new technology takes hold I am sure it will be incorporated into the OZ.
MF: Are the employees and staff at Prince into platform or is paddle just another product line to them?
DCK: The best way to answer the question is by way of three quick examples. First, the most recently contested 50+ Husband and Wife National Championships was won by Pete and Karen Lyons. Pete is the New England territory sales manager for Prince. Second, early in March many of the senior executive staff came out for a night of paddle just so they could learn about the game and test new equipment. And finally, there is already talk about putting up platform courts next to the existing tennis courts on the Prince campus so employees can play when they want.

MF: Okay, let’s change subjects for a moment. So, what’s it like being a member of the APTA Hall of Fame?
DCK: Unbelievable isn’t it? Who would have thought that me the poster boy for Lazy-boy furniture would be honored with the induction? My family was shocked that Bob Brown (Chairman of the Hall of Fame Committee) could actually find a store that had enough material to make a green jacket that actually fits me!

MF: I have to ask. What is happening to your trademark Viking hat?
DCK: It’s staying put on top of my head!

Note 1: Prince had been owned by the Italian company Benetton Group, S.p.A.

Source: Platform Tennis Magazine, Vol. 9, Issue 5, May, 2008