A local group seeking to keep the Nashville Predators in Tennessee met Wednesday in New York with owner Craig Leipold and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
"Craig is trying to afford the local group every opportunity to put an offer in place," Predators vice-president of communications Gerry Helper said. "Beyond that, it's not appropriate to comment further."
The Nashville consortium, formed in recent weeks in response to a pair of suitors interested in relocating the franchise, is led by Herb Fritch, chief executive officer of HealthSpring Inc., and David Freeman, CEO of 36 Venture Capital.
"The results of today's meeting is that Nashville has the opportunity to move very quickly to retain the Predators, and to do so under local ownership," said Fritch, who wasn't able to attend the meeting.
"While we have not yet signed a purchase agreement, our discussions were encouraging for Nashville if we can move quickly and decisively to ensure the team's long-term financial stability."
Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion Ltd., entered into a letter of intent with Leipold in May to buy the Predators for $220 million US.
The Waterloo, Ont., billionaire then entered into a lease agreement with the City of Hamilton to house an NHL team at Copps Coliseum.
Leipold, in late June, asked the NHL to hold off considering the deal in the absence of a binding agreement, and Balsillie's period of exclusivity to negotiate lapsed.
"Obviously, a local bid is a positive for both the league and the city of Nashville," Balsillie's lawyer Richard Rodier told The Canadian Press on Wednesday.
"The commissioner is on record as being in favour of franchise stability in their current locations and it's perfectly understandable. However, if the local bid is not successful, we remain optimistic that our bid is better in every way than any of the other bids out there."
William (Boots) Del Biaggio, minority owner of the San Jose Sharks, reportedly offered $190 million US to buy the Predators.
Del Biaggio has a deal in place to house any existing or expansion NHL franchise he owns in Kansas City's new Sprint Center.
Ticket drive deemed critical
Wednesday's meeting was scheduled a day before Nashville's "Our Team" ticket rally, which hopes to sell 3,000 season tickets.
I will certainly keep my ear close to the ground here to find out what happens," said "Our Team" chairman Ron Samuels. "When you get what we hope is going to be a large crowd out there, it's something you could really rally around."
"The ticket rally is very important — critical," Freeman noted in an e-mail to the Tennessean earlier this week.
"It will show the NHL whether Nashville is a hockey market or not. It will confirm to our ownership group that our faith and investment in the city is warranted."
Leipold last month triggered a clause that would allow the owner to break his lease with the city of Nashville should average attendance at the Sommet Centre fall below 14,000 next season.
The Predators averaged a paid attendance of 13,815 last season, when they finished third in the overall NHL standings.
"We would love to have local ownership," Samuels said. "But we think people, no matter who the owners are, once they come to Nashville, they'll love being here and find out Nashville is hugely supportive."