As the Nashville Predators have secured a spot in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, it would be hard for most to believe that the team was nearly sold to a Canadian billionaire. Yet, that was exactly the intention of original owner, Craig Leipold, 10 years ago, when the Predators had minimal support and poor ticket sales. On May 24, 2007, he announced he had a letter of intent to sell the team to Jim Balsillie, who planned on moving the team to Hamilton, Ontario.
However, a small group of civic leaders quickly started an effort, called “Our Team,” to save the Predators and keep the team in Nashville. The effort was largely ignited by George Plaster, a prominent Nashville sportscaster. He attended a meeting with Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Ralph Schulz and Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation President and CEO Butch Spyridon. They started the group “Our Team,” and decided the focus of the group would be to raise awareness of the situation and work on increasing ticket sales. At the time, the Predators needed to get 14,000 fans to attend every game each season or the owner could enact exit clauses. Schulz explained that the main focus was on driving up ticket sales so that if the team was sold to Balsillie, the attendance would stay above the 14,000 fans per game mark and make it hard for him to move the franchise away from Nashville.
The “Our Team” group put together a big rally at Bridgestone Arena where Plaster broadcasted his show live and free box lunches were provided for fans who showed up. Approximately 9,000 people came together to support the cause and 726 season tickets were sold in one day. Ultimately, Balsillie’s bid to buy the team was not successful.
Once the deal fell apart, David Freeman, CEO of 36 Venture Capital, began efforts to put together a local ownership group. He met with Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner, and talked to Chris Whitson, Craig Leipold’s attorney, to assure them that local investors were willing to make an effort. Leipold decided to take a chance on Freeman and the other investors, and allowed them to buy the team. Then, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and former governor Phil Bredesen, showed support as Metro and the state provided millions of dollars a year in subsidies and incentives.
Current CEO Sean Henry stated the Nashville community should be extremely proud of the Predators earning a spot in the Stanley Cup Final. If it weren’t for the “Our Team” group and the results of its efforts 10 years ago, there likely would not be a team in Nashville to support today.
Credit to Nate Rau, The Tennessean