NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — For the first time since the sale of the Predators was leaked last week, team management — including former Gov. Bill Haslam — spoke Thursday at Bridgestone Arena about the impending sale of the majority share of the team.
They officially laid out a plan in which Haslam will begin to purchase units of the team this fall and gradually increase his stake in the franchise until he becomes the majority owner three years from now. Both sides believe the sale will further strengthen the Predators ownership group and, by adding another local investor, further cement the team in Nashville.
“I don’t think we were in any danger of losing the franchise the way we were when we bought in,” Predators chairman and current majority shareholder Herb Fritch said. “But I did think it was really important to get the right guy as the majority owner, and the more I work with Bill, I’m really happy with that decision.
Haslam says he was first approached by Fritch and asked if he had any interest in joining the ownership group about six months ago. He was immediately interested because of his love for sports, his belief in the city of Nashville and his bullish expectations for continued growth in the future and because of the synergy he’s seen between the team and the city.
As the details of the deal continue to be worked out, Haslam says he thinks it’s a perfect fit.
“I feel like I’m kind of privileged to walk into a situation where some people before me made sure the team stayed here,” Haslam said. “They did an incredible job.”
Under the current ownership group, led by Fritch, the Predators became a part of the fabric of the community. They also became one of the most consistent teams in the league, reaching the playoffs the past eight seasons – tied with the Capitals for the second-longest streak in the NHL. But four consecutive first-round exits have led some fans to believe the team is sliding in the wrong direction.
After the Preds were swept in four games by the Avalanche in the opening round last month, the growing sentiment among the fanbase was that it was time for ownership to step forward and speak on the direction of the team. While the current ownership group has always deferred to team president Sean Henry and general manager David Poile when it comes to speaking on the direction of the franchise, the addition of Haslam provides ownership an experienced mouthpiece if the need arises for them to step forward and talk in the future.
“I looked to the future and how we’d want the ownership to look and what would be the best thing for the franchise in the long run,” Fritch said. “I think it was important to find the right local guy.”
Haslam’s addition comes at a time when there is growing uncertainty about the future of 72-year-old general manager David Poile. The only GM in the team’s history has shown no signs of slowing down and is committed to coming back for at least next season, but some fans believe it may be time for a change.
The team continues to be 100% behind Poile’s leadership but understands that a change in the not-too-distant future is coming.
“He’s been doing this a long time and won more games than any general manager in the history of the league, so he’s a great asset to the team and the community,” Fritch said. “I’m getting older and so is he, so we’re going to have to change that at some point and, frankly, as I thought about it, I really want Bill to be involved in those kinds of critical decisions.”
Haslam, who is the brother of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, has seen what it takes to run a professional sports franchise up close. He also says that just like learning how to delegate various roles as governor, a good team owner needs to allow people to do their jobs.
Asked what his message to the team’s fans is about this purchase, Haslam wanted to make sure they know he is a fan just like them.
“I care deeply about this team succeeding,” Haslam said. “I want to make sure we’re competing and winning just like the person who shows up wearing Roman’s jersey and comes to 34 games a year. We are going to go after the Stanley Cup, and I want to make certain we’re winning at every level.”