Canadian billionaire buying Predators; Nashville future in doubt Print
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Thursday, 24 May 2007 11:15
NHL Headline News

 NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -Nashville Predators owner Craig Leipold confirmed Thursday he has signed a letter of intent to sell the franchise to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie for $220 million.
``I'm tired of losing money,'' Leipold said. ``I found someone willing to step up and invest in this team and make it happen.''
The terms of the sale, which must be approved by the NHL's Board of Governors, call for the deal to be completed by June 30.
Leipold has owned the team since the NHL awarded the franchise in June 1997. But he had been talking to Balsillie about buying the team since January and decided to sell after losing $15 million this past season and approximately $70 million since landing the franchise in 1997.
``I have come to the conclusion that I cannot make it work here,'' said Leipold, who became emotional and had to pause at one point. ``We are one of the elite teams in this league, and we are by far the lowest revenue team in the league.''
Leipold said he hopes Balsillie's business skill can tap into the corporate support he never found to help him make a profit. He said he made money one year, and that was $640,000.
The Predators averaged 13,815 in paid attendance this season despite finishing with 110 points and third in the NHL.
Whether the Predators remain in Nashville past the 2007-08 season remains to be seen. Leipold has until June 19 to exercise a ``cure'' clause in the team's arena lease that would force the city to buy tickets and ensure attendance averages 14,000 next season.
Leipold said he has not yet discussed with Balsillie whether to exercise that clause.
But the consent agreement with the NHL that must be signed includes a clause that prevents a new owner from relocating the team for seven years. An arena lease would have to be in effect to force the new owner to follow that league requirement.
Asked if Balsillie intends to keep the team in Nashville, Leipold said he did not know.
``You'll have to ask Mr. Balsillie that question,'' Leipold said.
Basillie, who withdrew a $175 million offer to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins in December because of a similar non-relocation clause, said in a statement he is thrilled to have a chance to buy the Predators. He is the co-CEO of Blackberry makers Research in Motion Ltd.
The billionaire said he is respectful of all the ``due diligence'' required before the deal can close. He did not attend the news conference.
``This is still Craig Leipold's franchise until the deal is completed, so for me to comment at this time on any number of topics relative to the franchise would not be appropriate,'' Basillie said in a statement.
He said he planned to visit Nashville, talk with Predators fans and ``become more familiar with the community'' once the deal is final.
 

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