Saturday, June 07, 2008

Nashville Ownership Problems

Last summer, the Nashville Predators had an ownership crisis. The original owner of the team Craig Leipold decided to sell and it looked for a while like the team would be moved. Eventually, a local ownership group bought the team. It was not an easy purchase to put together. The new predators ownership group needed concessions from the city of Nashville and they needed to bring on William "Boots" Del Biaggio had to be brought on to join their group. Del Biaggio had been trying to move the team to Kansas City on behalf of the Anshutz Group who owns the arena there. He had a sweetheart deal. He bought a minority share of the team (reported to be between 27 and 33%) along with provisions that he could buy his partners out and move to Kansas City if they had sufficient losses, he could be bought out if things were stable and the Predators stayed in Nashville and best of all he was not responsible for any of the team's losses but he would share in their profits. This was needed to broker a deal to keep the Predators in Nashville. Stability of franchises has been a goal under Gary Bettman, even to the point of allowing weaker ownership groups who won't move teams instead of stronger ones who will (as an example see the current Tampa Bay situation.

It turns out Boots is not a model NHL owner. De Biaggio was hit by several lawsuits claiming he obtained financing and loans through fraudulent methods, was unable to pay them back and was under investigation by Securities and Exchange Commission. He has declared bankruptcy, with a personal debtload of $57 million.

Nashville's local ownership will try to carry on without him. Speaking on behalf of the whole group David Freeman says:

Here’s the bottom line for the citizens of Nashville and fans of the Predators: regardless of how many lawsuits are filed against Mr. Del Biaggio, regardless of the amounts of the claims, regardless of the details of the allegations, Mr. Del Biaggio’s problems are personal. Mr. Del Biaggio is a minority owner. His minority ownership stake and its final disposition will not impact operation of the club. It is my hope and anticipation that the club will be even stronger once this saga reaches its logical conclusion and Mr. Del Biaggio is no longer associated with the club.

Last summer, Nashville needed Del Biaggio to put the deal together. This summer they do not. Of course, he served one purpose to the team. The threat of a move to Kansas City has declined as Del Biaggio goes away. The problem is that a quarter to a third of the Nashville Predators is available for sale. Last summer, they found they had to go outside the local community to fill that portion of their ownership. It is unlikely that will change this summer. Would you buy that much of an ailing franchise? It will be hard to find buyers. Without buyers is this Nashville local ownership group going to die?

The NHL has some markets that are in poor shape financially. Nashville is one such market that has its current problems displayed in the media with Del Biaggio's bankruptcy. There are a few other markets also on shaky ground. Given the bleak economic news in the US some of these will come to a head and we may see teams moving.

Bettman needs to be ousted and replaced with a CANADIAN hockey man (Who would likely not balk at the idea of new or moved teams, in Canadian cities!) ...Before that idiot (Bettman) kills the sport HERE too!!!!!
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