In the wake of a $75 million credit influx, Nashville Predators chairman Tom Cigarran sees a bright future for the team – one that won't include moving trucks.
Tuesday, the team announced a $75 million credit facility fueled by a cadre of local and regional banks, which Cigarran says should be notice the once-rocky financial situation for the team is firming up.
"If you go back to when we purchased the team in 2007, the business climate was totally different. It was pretty easy to get money," said Cigarran, who took over as chairman from David Freeman 11 months ago. "It's gone from very easy to very difficult. The fact we were able to do it at all says a lot. The local banks all chimed in, and they see some of the things we've been doing. And unless that happens, we won't be able to do the things that … will keep [the team] here forever. That's what we're about. When we re-organized back in Feburary, we said we are committed to do everything we can to keep the team here."
The new credit, which replaces the expired $75 million debt acquired from CIT to help finance the purchase, is the latest step to "cleaning up" an ownership situation left murky primarily by the bankruptcy and ultimate fraud conviction of Boots Del Biaggio. Middle Tennesseans now own 95 percent of the team – Del Biaggio partner Warren Woo holds the remainder – after acquiring Del Biaggio's stake in September.
Shedding Del Biaggio and finalizing the $75 million opens the door for the partners to find some more new money, a process Cigarran expects to start within a few weeks.
"We couldn't start that until we got the financing done, until we had the Boots situation taken care of. All those pieces were like stepping stones," he said. "We're not going to run out of money when Boots presents his bill for $39 million, which he could have done in January. We have this bank financing. No investor was going to put money up [before]. ... We had to get those pieces in place."
Regarding new owners, Cigarran said "We are going to start in two or three weeks. We don't need a 100 people, we need, say, three. We want them to be compatible, look at this investment the right way." As for a time frame, don't look for news soon: It may be "a year or two years" before the new partners are in place.
Cigarran pointed to the new C-level executives brought in by the team, CEO Jeff Cogen and COO Sean Henry, as confidence-boosters for the banks.
"They've done some incredibly creative things and their thumbprint on this is evident. We have a bright future. We had to get the unglamorous things like the balance sheet in a solid business like position and this team will be here forever," he said.
Also on the horizon is a renewal of the lease with the city for Bridgestone Arena. The current agreement expires in 2012, but Cigarran said the ownership group is eager to get negotiations under way. He feels like the cadre is in a strong position, with hockey attendance up – the team has sold out six of its first 18 home games; four games sold out all of last season – and the arena, bolstered by nine Garth Brooks shows, set a monthly attendance record in December.
"It's a beginning process. We are looking for a win-win situation," he said. "We're not vendors or typical people trying to sell the city something. We're not going to do anything that's not good for the city in any negotiation. They respect the job that we've done."
On the ice, the team remains competitive in a tough Western Conference, one point out of the last playoff spot despite a run of injuries that has cost the team 115 man-games through 38 games. Forwards have been especially hard hit, with nearly all of the top playmakers having missed some time.
Nevertheless, the team has done well to shore up as best they can, bringing up promising players like Linus Klassen and Chris Mueller from Milwaukee and claiming Marek Svatoš off waivers. Cigarran says those moves are further indication of an improved financial situation.
"That's very expensive. If this had happened three years ago, we would have had a serious problem, but we're keeping this team competitive," he said. "If you look at our total payroll, this is the best team we've ever had."
Making a big trade before the NHL's deadline at the end of February isn't totally out of the question, either, though Cigarran was predictably mum, saying only the team was always "looking at interesting propositions."