Local businessmen interested in Predators

A group of Nashville businessmen has pushed aside Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, at least for the short term, with a bid to purchase the NHL's Predators.

Nashville group would not relocate NHL team

A group of Nashville businessmen has pushed aside Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, at least for the short term, with a bid submitted earlier this week to purchase the NHL's Predators.

Led by David Freeman, chief executive officer of 36 Venture Capital, and Herb Fritch, CEO of HealthSpring Inc., the group has not said how much it has offered in an attempt to try to keep the team in Nashville.

"We've signed a confidentiality agreement and we really can't comment on it," Fritch said Thursday.

Predators spokesman Gerry Helper declined to comment about the latest bid for the team.

"Until and unless we have a binding agreement in sight, we're not going to comment on the status of the ownership situation," Helper said.

The Predators were made available in May when owner Craig Leipold announced he had signed a letter of intent to sell the franchise to Balsillie, co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, which is based in Waterloo, Ont.

However, Leipold reportedly informed Balsillie on June 27 that he would walk away from his $238-million US offer to buy the team and possibly move it to Hamilton.

Last week, Leipold — who said his team has lost $70 million in 10 years of ownership — asked the NHL to hold off its consideration of the deal until he reached a binding agreement with Balsillie.

Instead, Leipold is reportedly pursuing a bid from California businessman William (Boots) Del Biaggio III for a more modest $190 million.

Del Biaggio, who owns a minority stake in the NHL's San Jose Sharks, has an ownership agreement in place with Kansas City's Sprint Center to bring a team there.

He did not immediately return phone calls on Thursday seeking comment about the Nashville group's bid to buy the Predators.

Richard Rodier, Balsillie's lawyer, also could not be immediately reached regarding the Nashville group's bid.

A week after his announced agreement with Leipold, Balsillie reactivated a deal that gave him exclusive rights to negotiate a lease option for housing an NHL team at Hamilton's Copps Coliseum, news that caught Leipold by surprise and reportedly caused him to have second thoughts about the proposed sale.

Thousands of season-ticket reservations were sold after Hamilton city council approved the agreement, which would have allowed Copps Coliseum to be the home of the Predators.

Last December, Balsillie withdrew his $175-million offer to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins after it was rejected by owner Mario Lemieux.

Fritch would not say how many Nashville investors are involved in the group's attempt to buy the Predators, but said they want the team to stay in the city because it's good for the "community economically, the quality of life.

"I've been a season-ticket holder for a number of years and enjoy hockey and the Predators," said Fritch, a northern Minnesota native who has lived in Nashville for nearly 12 years.

"During hockey season, that's one of the major things my wife and I look forward to. We'd feel like Nashville was a lot less desirable place if the Predators weren't around."

With files from the Associated Press