Knockin’ Boots: Nashville’s Ownership Group Acquires Del Biaggio’s Share

by Jas Faulkner,  Nashville Correspondent

On July 21st, Nashville’s NHL ownership group, Predators Holdings, LLC purchased the 27% share that had once been owned by  San Jose venture capitalist William “Boots” Del Biaggio. Transactions of this kind are usually marked by the involved entities and will sometimes get a passing mention on the business page of the local paper.  But this is not your typical boilerplate story about the business of professional sports.

The fifteen point two million dollars invested in bringing that share back into the hands of Tennessee investors represents a step towards keeping the promise made by the Predators Organization  that, at least from a fiduciary standpoint,  they will do what they can to keep the franchise in Nashville.  This latest development comes as the team is seeing an organizational shift towards increased optimism and a deeper commitment to creating a winning program.

Getting from there to here has not always been easy for Nashville.  The team’s steady growth lost a considerable amount of it’s momentum after the 2005 lockout.  The following season, Nashville  struggled and the Predators’  original owner, Craig Liepold made a tentative agreement to sell the Predators to RIM head Jim Balsillie.  Irregularities with the way it was  handled  led to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman putting a stop to the deal.

The 2007 season opened with an undercurrent of  growing acrimony between Nashville fans who were feeling leery of investing money and loyalty into a team that seemed to be on its way North and fans in Canada who felt betrayed by Bettman and frustrated at what they saw as his continual effort to dilute the cultural identity of hockey as a Canadian sport.  The troubled, sometimes tenuous feel about whether the the Predators had truly found a home in Nashville was aided by the news that an arrangement had been made to sell 27% of the organization to Del Biaggio, who promptly began to lobby for the team to be moved to Kansas City.

Concerns about such a move were answered by a local ownership group, which was  headed up at the time by David Freeman.  On August 1st, 2007,  his group declared it’s intention to keep the team in Nashville.  With concomitant funding and support from the Mayor’s Office and the city’s sports authority, the NHL Board of Directors approved the sale of the team to Freeman’s group on November 29th of that year.

Freeman’s  financial issues with the IRS led to his stepping down as head of the investors’ group earlier this year. His sucessor, Tom Cigarran,  is the new chariman and has stepped easily into his role as  the  face of the Predators’ ownership group.  Early in his tenure, Ciggaran demonstrated that he was not afraid to address issues that had been very much on the minds of Nashville’s fan base.  When Predators GM David Poile and Head Coach Barry Trotz announced that there would be more aggressive measures taken to improve the teams’ offensive potential and a retooling of their approach to special teams, Cigarran was supportive and stressed that he is taking a long, very positive view of Nashville’s future.

Cigarran was no less vocal and optimistic about this latest chapter in Predators history.  “This is a significant step forward to strengthen our franchise’s financial position,” Cigarran said. “We have worked with Todd Neilson (trustee for Boots Del Biaggio’s estate) to arrive at reasonable terms. This transaction eliminates a significant future liability and allows the Predators to move forward.”

This step answers any questions about what the ownership is willing to do to make the Predators suceed in Nashville.  The other pieces of the puzzle:  organizational outreach, fan response and team sucess are needed to prove the Predators will have staying power as part of Nashville’s sports community.

Jas Faulkner