Ex-suitor Balsillie still interested in buying Predators

Updated: October 12, 2007, 10:21 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie announced his continued interest Friday in buying the Nashville Predators, a move that could disrupt the intended sale to a group of local businessmen.

Balsillie, whose $220 million offer fell through earlier this year after he tried to move the team to Canada, now says he believes Nashville is a viable market for hockey, according to a letter sent to the Nashville Sports Authority by his spokesman.

However, current owner Craig Leipold is committed to completing the sale to the local investors. The local group put down a $10 million deposit in August on a $193 million offer and has until Oct. 31 to complete the sale.

"There is nothing to indicate that this deal will not be completed," according to an announcement posted on the team's Web site Friday.

The group is in ongoing negotiations with Nashville's new mayor on changes to the lease that provide incentives to make more money off the arena.

"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," said David Freeman, one of the partners in the local group and chief executive officer of 36 Venture Capital LLC.

Balsillie upset Leipold and local fans in May when he indicated that the Predators were moving to Canada before money changed hands. Balsillie renewed an arena lease in Ontario, took season ticket deposits in Hamilton using the Predators' logo and applied to the NHL to relocate before applying for ownership.

But Balsillie, the co-CEO of Blackberry makers Research in Motion Ltd., was "incorrect" in his initial understanding of the Nashville market, wrote Bo Roberts, his spokesman.

"He is also keenly aware of the recent outpouring of support of the Predators by the community," Roberts wrote in the letter.

Balsillie did not make a monetary offer for the team, but the letter outlined his position on a number of terms in the team's lease with the city.

Sports authority chairman Kevin Lavender said Balsillie's letter is not being considered right now.

"We are focused on one transaction that we have in front of us, and that's the group led by Freeman," Lavender told WSMV-TV.

The letter also said that Balsillie would be open to having local partners as part of the ownership group.

"Specifically, he would welcome the participation of the local investors in the Freeman Group, who have so diligently worked to keep the Predators in Nashville," the letter said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.