Canadian Billionaire To Buy Predators - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Canadian Billionaire To Buy Predators

Craig Leipold Craig Leipold

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Nashville's professional hockey team will soon have a new owner. The official announcement came at a press conference Thursday.

Craig Leipold, owner of the Nashville Predators, reached an agreement with Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie to buy the team for $220 million.

Balsillie is co-CEO of Research In Motion, which makes the BlackBerry e-mail device. He was not at the press conference due to previous engagements.

The two have signed a letter of intent, and planned to close the transaction by June 30. The deal would still require the NHL Board of Governors' approval.

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Leipold met with the NHL Board of Governors Wednesday afternoon in New York about the impending sale before he met with his team employees.

He told reporters Thursday that June 25 marked the 10 year anniversary of his ownership.

"Ten years ago I couldn't call myself a hockey expert. Today my family and I are more passionate. In the 10 years, we developed a loyalty fan base. Every team should be so lucky," said Leipold.

He expressed frustration with the lack of local corporate support for the team, and his inability to take the Predators financially to the next level.

"While my heart and my love of the game tell me we still can be successful, its time to give someone else this unique opportunity. I've carried the franchise as long as I can from a business aspect," said Leipold.

"I have come to the conclusion that I cannot make it work. It's painful to say that. As hard as we'd tried, and as good as a team as we have, we are by far the lowest revenue team," Leipold said.

Several attempts to bring in local partners or owners failed.

"It's really been frustrating. Its frustrating from the local businesses weren't interested. It's more frustrating that local investors weren't interested," said Leipold.

The Preds owner was asked about the chance that the team might leave Nashville.

"The fans of the city will determine that. Jim Balsillie is buying this team in Nashville as the Nashville Predators. As long as the lease is in force he's going to stay here," said Leipold.

As part of their lease of the Sommet Center, the team originally agreed to stay as long as attendance numbers met a certain level. If those numbers are not met, the team could end the lease early. The Predators have until June 19 to decide if that clause should be triggered.

For NHL approval, Balsillie would have to leave the team in Nashville for several years.

"He is going to sign an NHL content agreement. Within the agreement is the clause that the new owner will keep the franchise in the city for 7 years," said Leipold.

Still, that doesn't mean the team is safe in Nashville.

"There has to be a lease in place for him to stay," said Leipold.

Leipold had hoped the Predators mid-season success would help turn things around for the business end of the team.

"I really felt if we had a team that went to the Stanley Cup finals, new people would step up. As a result we made the decision to really invest in a Stanly Cup winning team," said Leipold. "We stepped up and made the determination to bring in Steve Forsberg."

He said it was the last chance he had to stay in this community, but success still did not come.

"It was as bad a scenario as you could get - getting knocked out of the first round," said Leipold.

He said he thought the new owner would give Nashville every chance of succeeding.  

"This is a dream that he's wanted and he's stepped up," said Leipold. "He's going to be an unbelievably good owner. He has an interest and passion for the game. I believe that he's not going to have a problem getting NHL approval."

Even with all his frustration, Leipold said the team has made an impact on Nashville.

"I think it's a big part of the city. I don't think other people saw it that way. Its loosing money, but it's a lot of fun. We just couldn't get people to step up," said Leipold. "Somehow we weren't able to make it work."

Earlier in the week the team announced that a deal had been made for the naming rights to the Nashville Arena, which was renamed the Sommet Center. Franklin-based Sommet Group entered into a multi-year naming-rights partnership with the Predators and Powers Management.

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