Ken Whitehouse of the Nashville Post reports this morning that David Freeman is stepping down as chairman of the Nashville Predators, with Tom Ciggaran taking over that role as well as the team's seat on the NHL Board of Governors. This, from the letter that Freeman's attorney sent to the Sports Authority (PDF from the Nashville Post):
UPDATE: A statement from the team is included below.
While having given assurances to the Metro Sports Authority that his personal wealth exceeds double that required under the personal guarantee he's required to provide the city, Freeman's ongoing tax dispute has left a cloud hanging over the team despite a series of positive developments in recent weeks, including the new arena naming rights sponsor (Bridgestone) and the strong showing by many of the Preds at the Olympic Games, which appears to be boosting demand for tickets locally.
In this letter, Freeman's attorney notes the financial commitment that has been made to the team, including the very interesting item that among his personal guarantees there was "an additional $44 million in 2008 to resolve demand of third parties created by the Boots Del Biaggio bankruptcy saga." I wonder if that guarantee was made to CIT Group, which lent a reported $60 million towards the purchase of the team.
Recently, the Sports Authority issued an ultimatum that these issues get cleared up by March 5 or action would be taken, but Freeman's main point in this letter is that he's placed significant funds to cover 2007 taxes on deposit with the IRS, and is pursing a ruling on his case with them. He's not in control of the IRS's schedule, and shouldn't have to waive his right to a fair hearing on his tax case at the behest of the Sports Authority.
Financially, it appears that the assurances are there and the team is headed in the right direction. Until this tax lien gets cleared up, however, Freeman presumably hopes that stepping down as chairman can help take the issue "offline" to some extent rather than distract the team during a critical stretch run to the playoffs.
This afternoon, the team sent out the following:
Today, the Nashville Predators ownership group announces a change in the leadership of its board of directors.
Tom Cigarran has been elected the Predators new chairman, replacing David Freeman who is stepping down as chairman after serving three years in this role.
"Everyone should recognize that had David Freeman not taken the initiative to pull together the current ownership team, the Predators would not be in Nashville today," said Cigarran. "Speaking on behalf of the other six owners in our group, we appreciate the time and energy David has contributed while serving his term as chairman."
The ownership team came together in 2007 to buy the Predators franchise in order to ensure the team remains in Nashville.
"We have received increasing support from the business community and individual fans each year since the local ownership group took control," said Cigarran. "We are committed to the success of the team and keeping it here. That's why we got involved in the first place, and it is behind every decision we make. This is a great time for our organization.
"We couldn't be more excited about our new partnership with Bridgestone. Six of our players have just returned from playing visible and important roles on their respective teams in the Olympics. We have great momentum and are on track for a spot in the playoffs, which would be our fifth appearance in six years."