The Nashville Predators continue to remain in discussions with two buyers — a local group and California businessman William "Boots" Del Biaggio.
Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie seems all but out of the running for the team.
Sources said the local group met with the team's chief financial officer yesterday. Apparently, the team's financial situation hasn't dissuaded the local group from pursuing its bid. Chase Cole, an attorney representing the local group, couldn't comment. The local group includes David Freeman, who has his own venture capital firm after selling Commodore Medical Services; Herb Fritch, CEO of managed care insurer Healthspring; Sam Bartholomew, partner in the Adams & Reese law firm; and Jack Jacques, a business investor who was a major Nashville real estate player in the 1980s.
Del Biaggio, however, could be in the lead, according to sources. He has a deal to operate a team in Kansas City in a new arena. There's been a lot of discussion of whether he would try moving the Predators to that city. Sources suggest he may not be as hot and heavy to move the team as Balsillie was to get the team to Hamilton, Ontario.
Still, if moving the team were in his thinking, Del Biaggio would face a similar task in Kansas City to what current owner Craig Leipold faced here — building a fan base in a non-traditional hockey market.
If average nightly paid attendance reaches 14,000, the team can't move, ending that discussion. In reality, the nightly paid attendance needs to exceed 14,000 for the team to narrow the losses. Season-ticket renewals are about on par with last year, according to a Predators official, and new sales are a little ahead of last year's pace. Groups raising money to buy tickets to donate to charity could give sales a boost into the season.
Del Biaggio's choice could be to stick it out in Nashville and build on the established base. He still, however, would need support from the corporate community as much as Leipold.
That's where the local group could come in again if it loses the bidding on the team. Clearly, the local group is interested in keeping the team here. It could invest with Del Biaggio, if he's interested, and not spend nearly as much as it would on buying the team. Quite possibly, the group would be interested in such an investment if Del Biaggio wants to keep the team here.
Leipold had wanted local ownership once Gaylord Entertainment exited as part-owner. But he couldn't get the interest until he announced he had a deal with Balsillie. Perhaps the local group could try cajoling Leipold into staying an owner. But it may be too late for that. Leipold said at the announcement that he was done trying to make the team work here and sources close to him have said his mood doesn't appear to be changing.
With an investment with Del Biaggio, the group would be joining someone with NHL ownership experience. He has been a minority owner in the San Jose Sharks for several years. Del Biaggio would get local investors who can lean on the corporate community here to buy tickets and sponsorships.
Meanwhile, the two sides are competing for the team. Only time will tell how it all unfolds.
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