The new Canadian investor in the Nashville Predators believes the NHL team is exactly where it belongs.
Calgary businessman W. Brett Wilson acquired a five per cent stake in the Predators’ ownership group Wednesday, completing a deal that was three years in the making.
He has very little in common with BlackBerry billionaire Jim Balsillie, who attempted to buy the Predators in May 2007 and move them to Hamilton. Wilson owns a place near Bridgestone Arena and is committed to keeping the team in the Music City.
“I have negative interest in running the team somewhere else, there’s just no interest whatsoever,” Wilson said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “The Balsillie approach—he just happened to be Canadian, he just happened to be looking for a team to move. I mean there’s no correlation to what I’m doing and what Jim was doing. …
“The last person that’s going to want to move a team would be me.”
Wilson is a former “Dragon’s Den” co-star and the current chairman of Canoe Financial, a Calgary-based investment firm with more than US$2 billion in assets. He also co-founded the FirstEnergy Capital Corp., investment bank and is a co-owner of two other sports franchises: the double-A Jackson Generals baseball team and the Derby County F.C. soccer squad in England.
The 54-year-old sees multiple benefits in owning a share of the Predators.
“I get value out of every investment in different ways,” said Wilson. “Money’s an obvious one. Fun and pleasure and entertainment is another. In this case, I’d say it’s both.
“I genuinely believe that the business model for hockey will improve, that the business model for the hockey team in Nashville and there’s a lot of upside.”
Wilson becomes one of only two owners in the group not from Tennessee. The local investors hold more than 90 per cent of the team.
Predators chairman Tom Cigarran says the ownership group is talking with other potential investors.
“Adding the right partners is an important part of our previously stated long-term business strategy to strengthen the financial foundation of the franchise,” Cigarran said in a statement. “We know Brett shares our passion for both the franchise and community, and is as committed as we are to making sure the team remains in Nashville.”
Wilson says he’d be interested in increasing his ownership share down the road if it’s “at that right price and if they need more capital.”
The deal comes nearly two weeks after the Predators signed goaltender Pekka Rinne to a US$49-million, seven-year contract that is the biggest in franchise history. Cigarran said that day the Predators also intend to sign defencemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber—both have contracts that expire after the season—and would have the money to do just that.
Those contract negotiations won’t be an area of the business Wilson is too closely involved with.
“Hockey operations, I’ll be learning not teaching,” he said. “There’s some smart people between me and Shea Weber, so I’m not going to get in the middle of that.”
Instead, he believes he’ll be able to offer a fresh perspective with ideas about marketing, governance and managing finances.
The Predators began play in 1998 and appeared in their 1,000th regular season game last weekend. Nashville has reached the playoffs six of the past seven seasons and have the third-most wins in the NHL since 2005-06.
Wilson first set about purchasing a stake in the team more than three years ago and encountered various hurdles during the process. During that time, the Predators have gone from a team averaging 12,000 paid fans per game to one that had 16 sellouts a year ago—more than it had in the previous two seasons combined.
“Relief would be one emotion (I’m feeling) and delight would be another,” said Wilson. “I’ve been fascinated with the Preds franchise and their position in their marketplace for a long time. I watched as (Balsillie) tried to convince them to let the team go and move it and I watched the local support grow.
“And at the same time I just watched the Preds get strongerand stronger and stronger.”
With files from The Associated Press.