Local group still fighting to own Predators

Thursday, July 12, 2007 at 12:50am

While only the members of the potential local ownership group know how much they bid for the Nashville Predators, rest assured it had to be a substantial offer.

While group spokesman Chase Cole, a local attorney with Waller, Landsen, Dortch & Davis said earlier that the bid would not be equal to the $220 billion to $238 billion supposedly offered by Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie, it has to be competitive with the $190 million that has apparently been offered by San Jose, Calif., entrepreneur William “Boots” Del Biaggio III.

Predators owner Craig Leipold allowed Ed Lang, executive vice president of finance and administration and chief financial officer, to open the books on the franchise for the local ownership group to study. Not surprisingly, they discovered that attendance will have to average more than 14,000 and that ticket price increases will probably have to be made if the franchise is going to have a chance to be both competitive and financially viable.

“If the local group had not made a substantial offer, Craig Leipold would have never opened the books for them,” said one local source.

Cole is no longer commenting on the ownership group and its plans. He refused to verify and identify the number of investors or the amount of the bid the group has submitted. David Freeman, CEO of 36 Venture Capital LLC and Herb Fritch, CEO of Healthspring, Inc., are the two main members of the group.

Leipold must pick a bidder to enter into a binding agreement with before the NHL can consider the purchase of the franchise. It will be September or October before the league’s Board of Governors will meet again. Gerry Helper, the Predators’ spokesman, said that there is no deadline for Leipold to make a decision on a bidder.

While there is strong speculation that Balsillie is out of the running for the team, he has apparently committed to spend $160 million to upgrade the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario, in preparation for an NHL team, according to reports in the Hamilton Spectator.

Del Biaggio has also indicated he would like to place a team in the new arena in Kansas City, Mo., but sources close to the situation indicate he is not that strong on moving the Predators if they can remain financially viable here.

“He would have a great lease agreement here,” said one source. “He has a proven market here. Why would he want to move to a new arena where there is not a proven market?”

Kansas City has already lost one NHL franchise. The Kansas City Scouts moved to Denver after two seasons in the late 1970s to become the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies then moved to New Jersey.

A strong rumor that refuses to go away locally is that billionaire Todd Wagner, a minority owner of the Dallas Mavericks of the NBA, may be part of a possible bid. Sources, however, have denied he is part of the local ownership group.

Wagner, and partner Mark Cuban, the majority owner of the Mavericks, sold Broadcast.com to Yahoo for $5.7 billion. Wagner is heavily involved in the entertainment business as CEO of 2929 Entertainment and has apparently bought land in Williamson County.

An e-mail to Wagner was not answered. A telephone call to his press secretary also was not returned.

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By: rschutte52 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Another solid and informative piece. The columns in the Tennessean are always full of doom and gloom or simply restate the already known facts. The information that the local group looked at the books is indeed significant and has not been noted by the Tennessean.Just confirms my decision to cancel my subscription to that bird cage liner.Keep up the good work.

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Um, the Tennessean reported that yesterday.

By: boyson on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I can not understand why 220 Billion did bot buy! EJB.

By: Dragon on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Let's see if I have this straight. Balsillie's offer was no good because he wanted to move the team to Canada. Del Biaggio's offer is still in play, even though he wants to move the team to KC. Leipold is trying to find a local buyer who will not move the team. If keeping the team in Nashville is a prerequisite, the local buyer is the only buyer.Oh, Leipold is selling the team because he is losing millions every year. The local buyer must think that raising attendance and ticket prices is doable, otherwise they are buying a business that is not financially viable.It appears that Leipold might be stuck with the team and his only option would be to go out of business.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

If Balsillie is out of the running, the reason is simple- he can't write his own NHL rules. The recent gutting of the team will make them less competitive in the short term, but may have something to do with increased interest, as salaries have likely gone down reducing operating expenses. Whether they make the 14,000 is a crap shoot, as a less competitive team may draw less people but corporations will likely start to finally support the team.

By: capt4chris on 12/31/69 at 6:00

It seems that there are smart decisions being made that is slowly moving this all in the right direction. "right direction" in the sense that I want the team to stay here. :)I hope the local group did indeed make a very competitive bid.

By: Dragon on 12/31/69 at 6:00

TFT, education please. What NHL rules worked against Balsillie that would not work against Del Biaggio? I'm still confused whether or not relocation of the team is the factor that knocked down Balsillie's "interest".

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Non-compete clauses. Toronto and Buffalo are within 100 miles of Hamilton, I think 150 is the minimum. Kansas City is more than 200 miles from St. Louis, the nearest existing market.Plus Balsillie acts unilaterally as if he could care less what the NHL thinks. That should tick off enough owners to shut him down as they did last time when he tried to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins.gdiafante can back me up on this, probably add to it, or correct me if I'm wrong

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Dragon, Balsillie’s deal was “no good” because, despite the sentiments of the NHL that the Predators not move while there’s a valid lease agreement, he negotiated with the city of Hamilton to approve the relocation and started a ticket drive. Not only did this anger Leipold, who generally want the Preds to work in Nashville, but he made Gary Bettman look like a fool. “Boots”, if sold the team, has already said on the record that he would rather see the Predators stay in the established market of Nashville and see KC get an expansion team.Leipold was looking for minority investors before he announced his intentions to sell the team, but as far as I know, he did not seek out local buyers, and they developed on the scene because of Balsillie’s reckless behavior.I don’t think we will be less competitive this year. We’re not losing anything with Vokoun’s departure (Mason’s numbers last year were identical). Timmonen was only kept around because he was an original member. We’ll miss Hartnell a little, but he took a lot of stupid penalties. Kariya only scored around 23 goals last year, so all we need is a healthy Sullivan and Rads to play the entire year and that can make up for those goals. Our defense is getting better too. We’re still a playoff team, although we may not be in the running for the President’s cup like last year.

By: Dragon on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Thanks. The non-compete clauses sound reasonable. I'm a bit leary of personality being a big factor.

By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The Preds are going to be in Nashville this fall and next fall....They will have a new #1 rival....The Columbus Blue Jackets!

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Kariya was the one that really hurt. I was at a game where he scored two of those 23, and he is in his prime. I hope gdiafante is correct, I enjoy the game no matter what but they're more fun when we win.Baseball has had some notorious owners- New York and Cincinnati come to mind. Balsillie would definitely inject his personality into a team if he ever succeeds in buying one. But it probably, and hopefully, won't be this team.

By: rschutte52 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

gdiafante, my point in dissing the Tennessean is that yesterday, they focused on the negative connotation that 14k wasn't going to be enough. They didn't report that the local bidders had looked at the Preds books and the quote that “If the local group had not made a substantial offer, Craig Leipold would have never opened the books for them,” said one local source.The Tennessean is indeed bird cage liner.