Third potential buyer for Predators enters ring

Updated: July 5, 2007, 1:35 PM ET
Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A group of Nashville businessmen has submitted a bid to buy the Predators, joining at least two other potential buyers vying for the NHL team.

The group, led by David Freeman, chief executive officer of 36 Venture Capital, and Herb Fritch, CEO of HealthSpring Inc., has not said how much it has bid in an attempt to try to keep the team in Nashville.

"We've signed a confidentiality agreement, and we really can't comment on it," Fritch said Thursday. The group submitted the bid earlier this week, he said.

Predators spokesman Gerry Helper declined to comment about the Nashville group's bid for the team.

"Until and unless we have a binding agreement in sight, we're not going to comment on the status on the ownership situation," Helper said.

The Predators were put in play when current owner Craig Leipold announced in May that he had signed a letter of intent to sell the franchise to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie for $220 million. Leipold said his team has lost $70 million in 10 years of ownership.

Soon after making his offer, Balsillie started a process to move the Predators to Hamilton, Ontario, if low ticket sales allowed the Predators out of their lease with the arena in Nashville after the sale's completion.

Last week, Leipold asked the NHL to hold off its consideration of the deal until he reached a binding agreement with Balsillie, who is co-CEO of Blackberry makers Research in Motion Ltd.

Instead, Leipold is reportedly pursuing a bid from San Jose, Calif.-based venture capitalist William "Boots" Del Biaggio III -- originally estimated at $190 million, the National Post in Canada reported last week.

Del Biaggio, who owns a minority stake in the NHL's San Jose Sharks, has an ownership agreement in place with Kansas City's Sprint Center to bring a team there.

Del Biaggio did not immediately return phone calls Thursday seeking comment about the Nashville group's bid to buy the Predators.

Richard Rodier, Balsillie's attorney, could not be immediately reached on Thursday regarding the Nashville group's bid.

Fritch would not say how many Nashville investors are involved in the group's attempt to buy the Predators but said they want the team to stay in the city because it's good for the "community economically, the quality of life."

"I've been a season ticket holder for a number of years and enjoy hockey and the Predators," said Fritch, a northern Minnesota native who's lived in Nashville for nearly 12 years.

"During hockey season, that's one of the major things my wife and I look forward to. We'd feel like Nashville was a lot less desirable place if the Predators weren't around."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE