Predators staying put in Nashville
Move would end Balsillie's dream of owning the NHL team
It appears as though the Nashville Predators won't be leaving town anytime soon.
Team owner Craig Leipold announced Wednesday that he has signed a letter of intent to sell the NHL club to a local group of investors trying to keep the team in Nashville.
Leipold said the total value of the group's bid is $193 million US, significantly less than the $220 million offered by Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie in May.
He had harsh words for Balsillie, who explored relocating the Predators to southern Ontario soon after the offer.
"Jim Balsillie went his own direction with a rogue lawyer [Richard Rodier] who had no intention of honoring the process of being an NHL owner," Leipold said. "Obviously, we didn't go forward, so we began the process to find a new owner."
The Nashville group is made up of seven local businessmen, including David Freeman, chief executive officer of 36 Venture Capital LLC, and Herb Fritch, CEO of HealthSpring Inc.
William (Boots) Del Biaggio, a California native and a part-owner of the San Jose Sharks who had earlier tried to purchase the team on his own, is also part of the group of investors. Del Biaggio will have to sell his minority share in the Sharks as this deal closes.
"I'm excited to pass the torch to David and to Boots and their group," Leipold said at a news conference. "I know that they are all committed to Nashville."
Freeman tabled a $10-million deposit in an effort to make sure the deal is completed. Leipold hopes to sell the team before the start of the regular season in October. The group hopes to finalize its application later this month and plan to present the deal to the NHL board of governors for approval at a scheduled meeting in mid-September
"Anything can happen, but having said that, clearly we've gone through the most difficult part of the process right now," Leipold said of completing the deal.
Wednesday's announcement appears to spell the end of Balsillie's dream of owning the NHL team.
Balsillie, co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, which is based in Waterloo, Ont., signed a non-binding letter of intent to purchase the Predators from Leipold for $220 million US on May 24.
A week later, Balsillie reactivated a deal that gave him exclusive rights to negotiate a lease option for housing an NHL team at Hamilton's Copps Coliseum.
By the time the draft arrived on June 22, Leipold sent a letter to the NHL stating he no longer wanted the league to consider the sale to Balsillie until a binding agreement could be completed.
Leipold officially informed Balsillie that he would walk away from the deal six days later.
Balsillie reacted by accusing Gary Bettman of sabotaging his bid to buy the Predators, an allegation the NHL commissioner denies.
With files from the Associated Press