This afternoon there was a press conference at the Sommet Center for the announcement of a Letter of Intent (including a $10 million deposit) which has now been signed between current Predators owner Craig Leipold and the (mostly) local ownership headed up by entrepreneur David Freeman, to sell the team for $193 million. The big news today is the revealing of the "out of town" money which bolstered the financial package being put together.
As it turns out, the mystery outsider is none other than "Boots" Del Biaggio, who had put his own bid in for the Predators previously, but instead becomes a partner with a small group of Nashville investors. Major kudos to the folks at the Nashville Post, who anticipated just this scenario working out over three weeks ago. So here's a quick recap of the presser:
Craig Leipold kicked things off by emphasizing that throughout this process that kicked off in May, Nashville had the chance to keep the Predators by meeting attendance guidelines, but that Balsillie's efforts to push forward with relocation efforts in Hamilton were surprising, calling Richard Rodier a "rogue lawyer" at one point and alleging that Balsillie improperly used the Predators logo in those efforts (is that true, folks?). It was after those developments that Leipold pursued the angle with David Freeman, who rapidly assembled a local group. He spoke highly of Del Biaggio, both in his NHL experience and financial wherewithal, which he anticipates adds greatly to the strength of this new ownership team.
He also thanked his front office staff who kept working hard under difficult circumstances, and the "Our Team Nashville" organization for its efforts in boosting season ticket sales. He also mentioned that the goal here is to close the deal by the end of September, right before the start of the regular season.
David Freeman then took to the mike, and took questions. Some of the highlights:
1) There are eight partners in the new ownership group, seven of which are local. Outside of Freeman and Del Biaggio, Herb Fritch has been the most visible member of the team. It will be some time before the rest of the group becomes known.
2) He spoke at length thanking the media for their patience in understanding that all they could say for a few weeks was "No Comment" to various inquiries. Note: TIP TO JIM BALSILLIE - hire a spokesman who knows when to keep quiet.
3) Freeman mentioned that he started this work immediately upon hearing May 25 announcement regarding the sale of the team, rather than after the relocation efforts got under way.
4) When asked about what assurances there were that Del Biaggio's presence wouldn't mean a swift relocation to Kansas City, Freeman emphasized that it lies with Nashville to make hockey work, but that a strong group of local business leaders have come forward and put large sums of money into the effort of making it work here. He said flat out, "Del Biaggio is not a threat to Nashville."
5) Freeman's words: "We have no intention of breaking the lease. We want to be here for life." The 14,000 benchmark is critical due to the revenue sharing implications, so the recent push around season tickets needs to continue.
6) Freeman couldn't speak to the question of renegotiating aspects of the arena lease with the city. Given a mayoral election that is just around the corner, I don't expect much to happen there quickly.
I got pulled away about 30 minutes into the press conference, so don't know if I missed any more fireworks, but the blasts Leipold sent Balsillie and Rodier's way were pretty spirited. In particular, I found the charge about the misuse of the Predators logo interesting - can anyone up north verify whether the Preds logo was used in the season-ticket deposit drive that Balsillie launched?