By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There are serious new questions about whether Nashville Predators management may have lied to city officials about a big concessions contract at the Bridgestone Arena.
At the center of those questions is a letter, just obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, in which the nation's biggest concessions company argues it could give taxpayers a much better deal.
That's a very different story from what the team told the Nashville Sports Authority back in July.
After questions first raised by our investigation, the Predators will ask the Sports Authority to vote Thursday on a revised concessions contract for the city-owned arena. Still, the letter suggests the team did not tell the whole truth the first time about the deal it was proposing with a National Hockey League insider.
Under the plan first pushed by Nashville Predators officials, Delaware North Sportservice -- the company that's had the concessions contract at the arena since 1996 -- could have ended up with a lock on the city's business until almost the middle of this century.
Delaware North is owned by Jeremy Jacobs, chairman of the NHL Board of Governors.
Previous story: Preds Propose Letting Insider's Arena Contract Run to 2043
At the July meeting of the Nashville Sports Authority, Predators President Sean Henry was asked if he had contacted Delaware North's competitors about the concessions contract he was proposing.
"We reached out to each and every one of them," Henry insisted, explaining that none of them thought they could serve up a better deal.
"What we built with this deal was the best of all those conversations. It can't get much better than this. I think their exact quote is 'stop calling us.'"
But in an August letter obtained under Tennessee's public records law, a senior vice president for Aramark -- Delaware North's biggest competitor -- wrote to Predators CEO Jeff Cogen that he was the one calling after having learned about the "proposed new agreement."
The letter insisted that Aramark was actually prepared to offer "enhanced economic terms" -- in other words a better deal -- with a "greater capital" investment in the arena. It ends, "I hope that you will reconsider our offer."
"The bottom line is he was caught lying before the Sports Authority," said outgoing Metro Council member Michael Craddock after seeing the letter obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
"Why would anyone stand before the Sports Authority and say, oh, we contacted these companies and they told us not to call anymore. We just bothered them and wore 'em out. Then here comes the largest in the United States at this and says, no, they didn't contact us. Gee whiz, come on, man. If you are going to tell a lie, tell one somebody will believe."
Henry and the Predators declined NewsChannel 5's request to sit down and answer questions about the story they told the Sports Authority.
But, in this letter back to Aramark, they wrote that Delaware North had "at least two seasons left" on its current contract, leaving the Preds and the city with an "exclusive option" of talking to them about a possible extension.
"All they are doing is circumventing the RFP (requests for proposals) process so other companies won't have the opportunity to bid," Craddock said.
The longtime Metro Council member added that the Predators wanting to give the NHL insider's company the contract for possibly 32 more years is suspicious enough, but Henry's claim that there was no real competition ought to be an even bigger red flag.
"The Sports Authority ought to spank that man for that -- and the company that he works for. They ought to spank him," Craddock declared.
Right now, it's unclear how the Sports Authority will react to the letter when the Predators bring a new proposal to them. As we recently reported, the company that provides concessions at LP Field, a company called Centerplate, told us that it would also like to have a chance to compete for the arena's business.
As for the new proposal, instead of the 32-year extension they originally proposed, it would give Delaware North the city's concessions business for 12 more years -- in exchange for the company spending more than a million dollars on new high-tech cash registers and other improvements.
But it will also give the company the right, if the Predators leave, to completely walk away from the arena -- leaving the city without a concessions operator.