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Balsillie to buy Nashville Predators


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Balsillie has deal to buy Predators

Not yet clear if relocation would be part of sale

May 24, 2007

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie might get his NHL team after all.

The co-CEO of Waterloo, Ont.-based Blackberry makers Research in Motion Ltd., has reached a tentative agreement to buy the Nashville Predators, a source close the negotiations confirmed to the Canadian Press on Wednesday. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The deal would have to be investigated and approved by the NHL's board of governors before it became official.

A message left for Balsillie was not immediately returned.

In December, Balsillie withdrew his offer to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins for $175 million (U.S.) after the NHL put terms on the sale that he considered unreasonable, including a condition preventing Balsillie from moving the team out of Pittsburgh.

Speculation had swirled that Balsillie wanted move the team to Hamilton, which is close to his home and RIM's head office, a move that Pittsburgh owner Mario Lemieux said he was opposed to.

"It was very important for us to keep it here it Pittsburgh," Lemieux said when Balsillie signed the purchase agreement. "I think Jim is committed as long as we build a new arena and we have a fair deal."

Whether the sale would involve relocation of the Predators was not immediately known. The Predators have struggled to sell tickets for years and their future in Nashville has been in doubt after losing money for 10 straight years.

An announcement confirming the deal could come Thursday.

Current Predators owner Craig Leipold, a Wisconsin businessman, teamed up with Nashville in the mid-1990s when then-mayor Phil Bredesen, now Tennessee's governor, built an arena and started looking for either an NBA or NHL expansion franchise.

Nashville and Leipold landed the expansion franchise in June 1997, and the Predators played their first game in October 1998.

But ticket sales lagged after the first couple seasons when the excitement and novelty wore off, and the team struggled to work from expansion franchise to playoff contender. The Predators earned their first post-season berth in 2004 only to lose the next season to the NHL lockout.

Leipold helped the NHL negotiate the current labour agreement after the lockout in the 2004-05 season, a deal that included revenue sharing, a salary cap and cash for small-market teams.

He went out and signed forward Paul Kariya in 2005, signed free agent centre Jason Arnott last summer and traded for Peter Forsberg in February to try and boost the Predators' chances for post-season success.

Leipold had been looking for a local investor to buy a minority share of the team and lobbying publicly the past months for more local involvement to boost lagging ticket sales with little success.

He announced a new, multiyear naming rights deal for the arena last Friday that he called a big statement for the team's future in Nashville.

"These are the kinds of things we need to have happen," Leipold said then. "Without a naming rights partner, without ticket sales, without corporate sponsors, that's when we get hurt. This is a great step. It sends the great message, and hopefully it'll get other companies calling as well."

A telephone message left at the home Brian Whitfield, the managing partner for Sommet Group, which bought the naming rights, was not immediately returned.

The Predators are coming off their best season yet with a franchise record 110 points and a third-place finish in the league standings.

But they lost in the opening round of the playoffs for a third straight season.

The team averaged only 13,815 per game this season, which gives Leipold – or the new owner – a chance to exercise a clause in the contract with the city of Nashville to ask for a "cure" season.

That would force Nashville to either buy enough tickets to boost attendance to 14,000. If the city declined, the team could leave by paying an exit fee following the upcoming season.

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I don't think Kitchener meets the requirements for a league team - at the *very* least, they would need to build a new arena.

Similarly, Hamilton by now needs a new arena. Copps was up to snuff back when the league last expanded, but not anymore. Plus, Buffalo would be sure to block a move to Hamilton.

I know it's nowhere near Balsillie's home base, but I would love to see a team back in Winnipeg. With the salary cap in place, I think the 'Peg could support a team once again.

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To add to the speculation, RIM bought a huge parcel of land around Cambridge recently. And guess what? It's 90 km from the ACC, just outside of the 80km territory rights.

The problem with Winnipeg is they built their new building a bit to small for NHL standards. It could still be feasible, but I can't imagine why they didn't add a couple thousand more seats when they designed the rink.

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Cambridge used to be a lovely place... and some parts of it still are. But it's a good example of what big-box mentality can do to a city, and Hespeler Road is the best example of that...

Not to get on an urban sprawl tangent, but Hespler Road was recently voted as one of the ugliest roads in Ontario. It has totally ruined lovely Gault, the place where I got married last year. The sad thing is, no one in the area seems to care about the effects of Hespler sprawl on the downtown cores of the three towns making up Cambridge.

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  • 3 weeks later...
Hamilton accepts Preds

Council votes 15-1 in favour of extending lease option to team's prospective buyer

June 14, 2007

HAMILTON–City council has approved an agreement that would allow Copps Coliseum to become the future home of the NHL's Nashville Predators.

A ticket drive is being launched this morning to show support for the team in southern Ontario. Under the name Predators Sports and Entertainment LP, prospective team owner and BlackBerry billionaire Jim Balsillie is offering fans a chance to make refundable deposits on a first-come, first-served priority wait list.

Deposits are $500 for seats in the upper bowl at Copps, $1,000 for seats in the lower bowl and $5,000 for corporate boxes.

But it's being described as a "contingency plan" by a representative of Balsillie, and the deal doesn't make Hamilton the exclusive destination for the team.

Richard Rodier, Balsillie's lawyer, repeatedly stressed at a press conference last night that there's still a lease in place in Nashville and the Hamilton agreement is a "contingency plan."

"The City of Hamilton has been kind enough to throw its hat in the ring," said Rodier.

But when asked if the deal rules out Kitchener-Waterloo as a potential relocation site, Rodier said no.

Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger is confident the city has adequately protected its future prospects.

"The language in the agreement prevents us from being used as a tool to go somewhere else," said Eisenberger.

Council voted 15-1 in favour of extending a lease option to Balsillie (councillor Russ Powers opposed) if he is successful in purchasing the team and decides to relocate the franchise.

The agreement released late last night was a stripped-down version of the lease plan that was released publicly last month.

Balsillie, co-CEO of Waterloo-based Research in Motion, has reportedly reached a tentative agreement to purchase the Predators from Wisconsin businessman Craig Leipold for $238 million (U.S.). He submitted a formal purchase application to the NHL yesterday but the sale of the team has to be approved by the league's board of governors.

Rodier said Balsillie's planned purchase of the team will not be put in front of the NHL's board for several months.

Nashville officials argue that the Predators wouldn't be allowed to leave until 2009 at the earliest.

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Balsillie's got balls. This is great a business move. Forces the fans in Hamilton and surrounding area to put up or shut up and forces the NHL into an uncomfortable position when they do so.

And Balsillie doesn't even own the team yet!

It's like a hostile takeover.

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wouldn't the 80 km thing that map is showing be better represented by driving distance than straightline distance over a lake?

still, the whole New York / NJ / Philly thing is confusing given the distance requirements... Oh well.

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Guest Low Roller

At the Hamilton Bulldog rally this week, the owner of the Bulldogs greeted the crowd during the Calder Cup party at city hall with this great line: "Any Nashville Predator fans in the house?".

The crowd booed. :)

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still, the whole New York / NJ / Philly thing is confusing given the distance requirements... Oh well.

I heard yesterday that a team sould still move into the 80km zone. They would just have to work out an amount to pay the team they're moving in on.

the crowd booed

What idiots. Send the team to Waterloo.

Edited by Guest
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