UPDATED at 3:20 p.m. with quote from James Weaver, attorney for ownership group
The finance committee of the Metro Sports Authority will meet in special session Jan. 28 to get an update on the finances of the Predators' ownership group.
Until then, don't expect too many statements from team owners. In an e-mail, Michelle Kennedy, the team's senior vice president, chief administrative officer and corporate counsel, has told the owners to avoid media statements. Here's Kennedy's message:
"There was an extensive discussion in this morning's sports authority budget and finance committee meeting about some items that I expect you might receive media calls about since there were a number of members of the media present. The attached document was distributed by Rusty Lawrence to the members – I just wanted to give you all a heads up that you may be receiving calls about this since matters involving local owners' net worth came up in the meeting and are included on this document (which all the members of the media received). Although I certainly cannot tell any of you what to do, I would ask that you strongly consider not commenting if contacted."
James Weaver, an attorney with Waller Landsden Dortch and Davis, who represents the ownership group, said the memo is simply a clarification as to who the team's point-of-contact should be.
"Michelle is advising her clients. ... On the Predators Web site, the media contact is Gerry Helper," he said. "This memo looks to prevent the demagoguery, which leads to headlines [like the Post's]."
The document Kennedy alluded to was an outline by Lawrence, the finance committee chairman, of what he wants a three-member panel – made up of Metro Legal Director Sue Cain, Sports Authority member Lauren Brisky and local attorney Larry Thrailkill – to find out from the owners.
Lawrence floated an idea for the negotiating group to ask the owners not just about net worth, but about potential liabilities against them and for a determination of worth that does not include their individual ownership stakes in the team.
All the questions about the owners' financial standing stem from a federal tax lien against principal owner David Freeman, who said the lien was related to his bailout of the team in the wake of the bankruptcy of Boots Del Biaggio. The Sports Authority only learned of the more-than-$300,000 lien because of media reports.
The Predators have repeatedly insisted the team will not terminate its Sommet Center lease and leave town – which would require a $20 million payout to Metro – and the Authority is equally insistent they don't want to declare the team in default. The latter would require a $50 million payment from the team.
Lawrence said a lot of unanswered questions remain. One is if it would be possible to acquire an letter of assurance from the team's senior lender, CIT, that the authority will be notified if the team defaults – or has already defaulted – on the loan.
Lawrence also wants to know how close the team is to the $20 million mark in cumulative operating loss and how close the team is to meeting the 14,000 paid-attendance threshold, both key revenue-sharing figures for the National Hockey League.