Developments in Hamilton just a 'contingency plan'

Updated: June 14, 2007, 7:56 PM ET
Associated Press

HAMILTON, Ontario -- Hamilton's city council approved an agreement Wednesday that would allow Copps Coliseum to become the Nashville Predators' home.

And a ticket drive was set to be launched Thursday to show support for the NHL team in southern Ontario. But it's being described as a "contingency plan" by a representative of the prospective buyer, BlackBerry billionaire Jim Balsillie, and the deal doesn't make Hamilton the exclusive destination for the team.

At a hastily called press conference at Hamilton's City Hall, Balsillie's lawyer, Richard Rodier, repeatedly stressed that there's still a lease in place in Nashville and the Hamilton agreement is a "contingency plan."

"The City of Hamilton has been kind enough to throw its hat in the ring," Rodier said. But when asked if the deal rules out Kitchener-Waterloo as a potential relocation site, Rodier said no.

"If a relocation application is put forward, the league would like us to look at all reasonable alternatives," Rodier said. "Our preliminary indication is that Hamilton would be ahead of the pack."

Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger is confident that the city has adequately protected its future prospects.

"The language in the agreement prevents us from being used as a tool to go somewhere else," Eisenberger said.

The council voted 15-1 in favor of extending a lease option to Balsillie if he is successful in purchasing the team and decides to relocate the franchise.

Balsillie, co-CEO of Waterloo-based Research in Motion, has reached a tentative agreement to purchase the Predators from Wisconsin businessman Craig Leipold. Balsillie submitted a formal purchase application to the NHL on Tuesday, but the sale of the team has to be approved by the league's board of governors.

Rodier said Balsillie's planned purchase of the team will not be put in front of the NHL's board for several months. Nashville's government argues that the Predators wouldn't be allowed to leave the city until 2009 at the earliest.

Leipold has until June 19 to exercise a clause in the team's arena lease that would force the city of Nashville to buy tickets and ensure attendance averages 14,000 next season.

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.

The terms of the sale call for the deal to be completed by June 30.

Balsillie withdrew an offer to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins in December because the league did not want him to relocate.

However, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said that even if the sale of the Predators goes through, the franchise "is not going anywhere."

Bettman said he met with Balsillie in May and asked whether he 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.

An NHL spokesman declined to comment Wednesday.

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


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE