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Predators owner Leipold, members of local group meeting with NHL

The Canadian Press
By:
The Hockey News
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Predators owner Leipold, members of local group meeting with NHL

The Canadian Press
By:

Gerry Helper, vice-president of communications for the Predators, confirmed Leipold and members of the local group bidding to buy the team were in New York to meet with the commissioner.

"Craig is trying to afford the local group every opportunity to put an offer in place. Beyond that, it's not appropriate to comment further," Helper said.

Helper would not comment when asked if the meeting was Bettman's introduction to the group of businessmen or a session that could produce a letter of intent. The group is trying to counter offers from Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie and California businessman William (Boots) Del Biaggio for the team.

"Obviously a local bid is a positive for both the league and the city of Nashville," Balsillie's lawyer Richard Rodier told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. "The comissioner is on record as being in favour of franchise stability in their currrent locations. And it's perfectly understandable.

"However, if the local bid is not successful, we remain optimistic that our bid is better in every way than any of the other bids out there."

Leipold said he's trying to sell the team after losing approximately US$70 million since being awarded the expansion franchise in 1997.

The local group, which includes 36 Venture Capital CEO David Freeman, submitted a bid for the Predators in early July but hasn't discussed the amount of the bid.

Balsillie's bid of $220 million has stalled since a letter of intent signed in May, and Del Biaggio offered $190 million. Del Biaggio has an agreement with the Sprint Center to own any NHL team that relocates to Kansas City.

Herb Fritch, chief executive officer of HealthSpring Inc. in Nashville, and one of the leaders of the local group, did not immediately return a telephone message Wednesday. A lawyer working with the Nashville businessmen in their bid declined to comment when reached by e-mail.

The NHL did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment Wednesday.

But the chairman of a Nashville group planning a daylong "Our Team" rally Thursday to push a local effort to sell at least 3,000 season tickets greeted the news as a positive.

"No question about that," said Ron Samuels, president of Avenue Bank and chairman of the "Our Team" effort. "It'll be exciting to have that on the agenda."

Leipold exercised a clause in June that would allow the team to end the arena lease if the Predators do not average a minimum of 14,000 in paid attendance. The Predators averaged 13,815 in paid attendance this season after finishing third in the NHL with 110 points.

Fan support hasn't been the Predators' biggest problem. Leipold said 35 per cent of the ticket base comes from businesses compared to 65 per cent from fans, which is nearly opposite of other NHL teams.

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Predators owner Leipold, members of local group meeting with NHL