Bettman says if sale of Preds goes through, team staying put

Updated: May 28, 2007, 9:56 PM ET
Associated Press

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday that even if the sale of the Nashville Predators goes through, the franchise "is not going anywhere."

Craig Leipold has signed a letter of intent to sell the Predators to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie for $220 million after losing $70 million in 10 years of ownership.

The terms of the sale, which must be approved by three-fourths of the NHL's board of governors, call for the deal to be completed by June 30.

Bettman said he met with Balsillie last week and asked whether the co-CEO of Blackberry makers Research in Motion Ltd. had intentions to relocate the franchise.

"He told me that he did not," Bettman said before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals between Ottawa and Anaheim.

"What's clear to me from meeting with Mr. Balsillie is he's passionate about the game, he'd like to own a franchise and certainly has the resources to do it. Beyond that, there have been no promises, there have been no predictions."

The Predators finished third in the league standings this season with a franchise-record 110 points, but averaged 13,815 in paid attendance.

Leipold has until June 19 to exercise a "cure" clause in Nashville'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 will speak to Balsillie.

Balsillie would have to sign a consent agreement with the NHL, including a clause that prevents a new owner from relocating the team for seven years. But an arena lease would have to be in effect to force the new owner to follow that league requirement.

Averaging 14,000 paid attendance in 2007-08 would keep the lease in effect.

"If the attendance mark is satisfied, even if it's not, or if the city cures what would then be the default, this team is not going anywhere," Bettman said.

"There is a lease and sports leagues aren't in the practice of letting teams violate their leases. I believe Mr. Balsillie understands that. It's conceivable that this team will be in Nashville as long as its lease."

Leipold has said he hopes Balsillie's business skill can tap into the corporate support he never found to make a profit.

"This team suffering is due to a lack of corporate support," said Bettman, adding that more individuals own season tickets than corporations in Nashville, which he said is unique among NHL cities.

Meanwhile, coverage of this year's finals is being affected by cost-cutting in the U.S. newspaper industry.

Only four of the 24 U.S. NHL markets outside the Los Angeles area are being represented by newspapers during Games 1 and 2 in Anaheim. They are: The New York Times, (New York) Daily News, Philadelphia Inquirer, Denver Post and Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Bettman said that doesn't represent a decline from last year to this year. "Our numbers this year are about what they were last year," he said.

The commissioner mentioned the challenges facing newspapers in an increasing digital age, including fans' ability to get news from the Internet and hand-held devices.

"That's probably one of the reasons the newspaper industry is having the problems it is," he said.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press