Looks like Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, whose company makes the BlackBerry, is once again circling overhead the Sommet Center, looking to get back in on the Preds sale action—a move that's got the local investors group in quite the tizzy. In a statement released a little bit ago, David Freeman, leader of the local group, says it would be inappropriate to comment on Balsillie's "obvious intentions." But that didn't stop him from—as he put it—paraphrasing one of his favorite fans: "Keep your damn hands off our hockey team!"
"The Predators belong to Nashville," Freeman says. "Quite frankly, I'm tired of our community's resolve to retain the Predators on a permanent basis being questioned by outsiders that neither contribute to our community nor care about our community. In effect, they question the character and commitment of our city and our people. This is our home. This is 'Our Team.'"
Balsillie certainly is persistent. Before the new local investors group emerged with its $193 million bid, he offered $220 million to buy the team in May. But Preds owner Craig Leipold quickly bagged Balsillie once word traveled south that the Canadian had started a season-ticket-selling campaign in Hamilton, Ontario.
Even though Mayor Karl Dean and the local owners group are still in hot-and-heavy negotiations on the terms of the deal, Balsillie has licked his wounds and returned with a new proposal should this deal
fall through. This time, he promises to keep the team here and only to change the team's current operating and licensing agreements in ways that "would benefit the [Sports] Authority and the citizens of Nashville."
Balsillie's even admitted that he flubbed the first round of negotiations. In a memo submitted to the Sports Authority by Bo Roberts, who is now representing Balsillie, Roberts writes that his client admits that his "understanding of the Nashville market...was incorrect." Aside from his newfound ties with Balsillie, you may know Roberts as Howard Gentry's former mayoral campaign chairman who switched to Dean's campaign after the former vice mayor missed the runoff.
But those ties may not help Balsillie—Dean says in a statement today that it's not his team to sell. The mayor says he will continue to discuss the terms of the deal with the local group. "My No. 1 priority remains the same, which is to act in the best interest of Nashville taxpayers. As long as taxpayers are protected, I want to do everything we can to keep the Predators here," he says.
Freeman says he's still confident that the deal will go through before Oct. 31, when Leipold is free to seek other bids—and to keep the $10 million deposit from the local group.