Predators sign letter of intent to sell to local group for $193 million

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Owner Craig Leipold signed a letter of intent Wednesday to sell the team to a local group of investors trying to keep the NHL franchise from leaving town.

The group of eight partners plan to pay US$193 million, according to Leipold. One of the partners, David Freeman, chief executive officer of 36 Venture Capital LLC, has put down a $10-million deposit to make sure the deal is completed.

The only partner from outside the Nashville area is William (Boots) Del Biaggio, a California venture capitalist who is a part-owner of the San Jose Sharks.

"I'm excited to pass the torch to David and to Boots and their group," said Leipold. "I know that they are all committed to Nashville."

The bid was much less than the $220 million offered by Canadian billioinaire Jim Balsillie in May when Leipold last announced he had signed a letter of intent to sell his team.

Del Biaggio previously offered $190 million for the team, and had an agreement with the Sprint Center in Kansas City to own any NHL team that relocates there.

When asked if Del Biaggio's involvement meant the team's future in Nashville remained in doubt, Freeman said there was no assurance if hockey does not succeed in Tennessee.

"Our belief, as kind of the local group, is that given a second chance Nashville will support this team and that there will be a tremendous overall show of support," he said. "We have obviously agreed to write Craig some pretty large cheques to back up that belief."

The biggest challenge in keeping the team in Nashville?

"Simply buy tickets and show up at games," said Freeman. "That's really it."

Del Biaggio will have to give up his minority ownership in the Sharks, and Freeman said he would be a minority owner in the Predators.

They hope to present the deal to the NHL board of governors for approval at a scheduled meeting in mid-September.

Leipold has been trying to sell his franchise because he said he has lost $70 million since being awarded the team in June 1997.

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