A deal rumored for nearly five years became reality Wednesday as Canadian billionaire W. Brett Wilson was announced as the newest member of the Nashville Predators ownership.
Wilson, chairman of Canadian investment management firm Canoe Financial, closed on the purchase of 5 percent of the Nashville Predators and its arena-management arm Powers Management.
Wilson also has extensive holdings in the energy and real estate industries through Prairie Merchant Corp. See story here.
In his home country, he has featured prominently in reality TV. In addition to the Predators, Wilson is a co-owner in two other professional sport franchises: the Jackson Generals and the Derby County F.C. with Predators owner David Freeman.
"Brett's addition diversifies and strengthens our ownership group," Predators chairman Tom Cigarran said. "Adding the right partners is an important part of our previously stated long-term business strategy to strengthen the financial foundation of the franchise. We know Brett shares our passion for both the franchise and community, and is as committed as we are to making sure the team remains in Nashville.”
Cigarran said that discussions with other potential ownership investors, primarily from Tennessee, have already begun.
"There really is no time line," he said in an interview with NashvillePost.com. "It takes some time for people to look at things."
Cigarran said news on local investment could come in the next "12 to 18 months."
Not that Wilson is a total stranger to Nashville.
"Since the fall of 2007, I have owned a home in Nashville’s Werthan Mills’ Lofts and have been travelling there regularly for business and pleasure," Wilson said. "Joining the Preds ownership group has been contemplated and studied for quite some time. The local owners and I are totally committed to keeping the NHL in Nashville. The business model, both on and off the ice, continues to evolve and improve, and I have been captivated by the market's enthusiasm for our team. Now is the right time for me to join and contribute in my way in helping the organization continue growing from a contender into a Stanley Cup champion."
The Predators' local ownership group retains more than 90 percent of the ownership stake. Wilson joins the ownership group as one of two members from outside Middle Tennessee. The other out-of-towner is Warren Woo, who came in as a partner of the now-jailed and bankrupt Boots DelBiaggio.
Cigarran said resolving the issues with DelBiaggio's stake was the first step in steering the franchise to stability.
"It's part of our plan. We had a whole series of things to do to get our franchise in shape. We had to get all of those other things and we couldn't bring in new investors until we got the Boots thing taken care of," he said.
As Freeman's partner in various sports ventures, Wilson's name has been bandied about since the local ownership purchased the team in 2007, heating up in 2009. During the mid-summer Skate of the Union event, Cigarran said he expected Wilson to join the ownership group in September.
Reportedly, the NHL had qualms about approving Wilson's stake early on because he is a Canadian — worried about the implications of a north-of-the-border partner owning a stake, albeit small, in a non-traditional market. Cigarran downplayed those concerns, saying the NHL has an extensive vetting process for all of its owners.
One of the next steps for the team will be renegotiating the terms of its incentives package with the city. Cigarran said "discussions" — he said he wouldn't characterize them as negotiations — are ongoing and have been cordial.
"We expect the outcome to be positive for both [team and Metro]," he said.