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Predators fans stage rally to help team reach ticket sales goal

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Todd Tayes had been working in his
grandmother's pastry shop, saving his money for a flat-screen TV.
When the 12-year-old boy heard the Nashville Predators needed to
sell more tickets, he changed his plans.

"I wanted to buy some tickets," he said.

Tayes and his uncle, Chris Turner, teamed up Thursday and bought
a 13-game package each -- their first ticket purchase -- for the
upcoming season during a 15-hour rally held by a local group trying
to sell enough season tickets to keep the Predators' lease in
effect after the 2007-08 season.

The team's future ownership is still undecided. A local
investors group has been given the chance to keep the Predators in
Nashville after meeting with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on
Wednesday in New York.

A Canadian billionaire and a California businessman also have
separate offers for the Predators, but Jim Balsillie's $220-million
bid stalled after a letter of intent was signed in May.

Whoever owns the team would have to spend millions of dollars to
break the arena lease if the "Our Team" effort helps the
Predators average a minimum of 14,000 in paid attendance this
season. The team averaged 13,815 for 2006-07.

NHL officials and current owner Craig Leipold monitored
Thursday's rally to see how Nashville would respond.

"Our Team" chairman Ron Samuels, president of a local bank,
said the group's original goal was 300 season tickets sold
Thursday. A spokesman for the group said they broke 500 by 6 p.m.
and planned to sell more before the event ended at 9 p.m.

"I can't imagine this is not a strong message when you consider
that last year at this same time total new sales for tickets from
what I understand were somewhere around 600 to 750," Samuels said.
"We're well over that now at almost 1,500 tickets. That's a 100
percent increase. That's pretty strong. I would think this is
certainly showing the NHL and others that Nashville's thirsty for
hockey."

The "Our Team" group would like to break the 14,000 minimum
and hit 16,000 to help the team's eventual owner field a more
competitive team.

The Predators are coming off a season in which they finished
third in the NHL regular season with a franchise-high 110 points,
only to lose to the San Jose Sharks for the second consecutive time
in the first round of the playoffs.

Anticipating a lower budget for next season, the Predators let
top scorer Paul Kariya leave as a free agent, and traded top goalie
Tomas Vokoun, defenseman Kimmo Timonen and forward Scott Hartnell.

Leipold, awarded the expansion franchise in June 1997, announced
in May he was selling the team after losing $70 million in the
club's 10-year history.

On Thursday, fans had the chance to enjoy a live band at midday,
eat $5 box lunches provided by neighboring hotels and check out
seats they wanted to buy while watching highlights on the
scoreboard.

Thursday night's main event featured the team's mascot, Gnash, unveiling the Predators' new sweater, along with defenseman
Ryan Suter and forward Vern Fiddler. Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, who
helped lure the team to Nashville as mayor, attended with first
lady Andrea Conte.

David Freeman, chief executive officer of 36 Venture Capital,
and Herb Fritch, CEO of HealthSpring Inc., are part of the
Nashville group bidding for the Predators. Both men planned to stop
by the rally to thank the organizers.

Freeman said everyone has agreed not to discuss their talks in
public, including their offer, but said everything is moving in the
right direction with Leipold and the NHL giving Nashville another
chance to show it wants the Predators.

"That's a wonderful position to be in, to know that it's in our
hands now. Craig Leipold couldn't have been any more generous to
allow this city another opportunity," Freeman said.

"I don't know if people will recognize what Craig has really
done here and what a great gift he's given to the city to allow it
a chance to more or less buy its own hockey team back."