Jun 21, 2022 - Business

Haslam's Preds deal provides stability

A Nashville Predators fan holds up an inflatable Stanley Cup before the puck drop of game six of the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs between the Nashville Predators and the Carolina Hurricanes at Bridgestone Arena. Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports

Fifteen years ago, a billionaire's bid to buy the Nashville Predators signaled the franchise had failed in Music City and needed to relocate to Canada to reverse its fortunes.

  • The Predators' business operations and standing in Nashville have changed so dramatically since 2007 that the entry of another billionaire — former Gov. Bill Haslam — into the ownership sends a completely different message.

Why it matters: Business and political leaders tell Axios that Haslam joining the Predators ownership group is good news and affirms the stability of the hockey franchise that once had its bags packed for Canada.

What they're saying: After news broke that Haslam is buying into the Predators, Nashville Mayor John Cooper told Axios over text messages that he was "excited for the city."

  • Cooper highlighted the fact that Haslam is a Tennessean with children and grandchildren living in Nashville. He called Haslam a "great leadership choice."

Flashback: In 2007, original Predators owner Craig Leipold struck a deal to sell the team to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, who planned to relocate the franchise to Hamilton, Ontario.

  • When the sale hit a snag, Nashville attorney and businessman David Freeman led a group of local investors who cobbled together enough capital to buy the team and keep it in Nashville. Importantly, Freeman renegotiated the Predators' Bridgestone Arena lease with the city to provide incentives for holding more concerts and other non-hockey events at the facility.
  • More drama encircled the Predators' ownership when Freeman began feuding with minority owner Tom Cigarran, who eventually replaced Freeman as chairman.
  • Cigarran hired Sean Henry and Jeff Cogen as the franchise's top executives, and that trio grew the business into a shining NHL success story. The Predators reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 2017, and Bridgestone Arena has regularly been ranked by Pollstar among the top-performing arenas in the world.

The intrigue: If Freeman saved the Predators from leaving town and Cigarran grew the team, Haslam is poised to provide permanent stability.

  • Over the next three years, Haslam will gradually purchase ownership shares from current majority owner and chairman Herb Fritch.
  • "These ownership transitions for pro sports franchises are not always easy things," Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Ralph Schulz tells Axios. "This is really, really good news and a positive sign for the long-term operations."

What we're watching: The next big project for the Predators could well be the continued development of Bridgestone Arena.

The team's most recent lease deal grants the franchise redevelopment rights for Bridgestone Arena, perhaps paving the way for a mixed-use project.

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