Reports: Predators being sold to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie

The co-CEO of Waterloo, Ont.-based Blackberry makers Research in Motion Ltd., has reached a tentative agreement to buy the Nashville Predators, a source close the negotiations confirmed to the Canadian Press Wednesday. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The deal would still have to be investigated and approved by the NHL’s board of governors.

In December, Balsillie withdrew his offer to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins for US$175 million after it was rejected by owner Mario Lemieux for a higher offer.

Speculation had swirled that Balsillie wanted move the team to Hamilton, which is close to his home and RIM’s head office, a move that Lemieux said he was opposed to.

“It was very important for us to keep it here it Pittsburgh,” Lemieux said when Balsillie signed the purchase agreement. “I think Jim is committed as long as we build a new arena and we have a fair deal.”

Balsillie had indicated his plans were to keep the team in Pittsburgh.

A message left for Balsillie had not been returned.

Predators owner Craig Leipold met with NHL officials in New York on Wednesday to discuss the deal, WTVF-TV in Nashville reported.

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He was already looking for a local investor to buy a minority share of the team and more local involvement to boost lagging ticket sales without much success.

The Predators stood atop the NHL for several weeks starting in January and stayed there until March 29. They set franchise records with 110 points this season before a third straight first-round exit from the playoffs.

Even with their on-ice success and a series of high-profile roster moves prior to the season, the Predators failed to generate much of a buzz in Nashville. The Predators were 23rd in the 30-team league in average attendance with 15,529 fans per game. The low attendance figures fuelled speculation on whether Nashville was a viable hockey market.

Leipold had the option of asking the city to buy additional tickets to help the team meet attendance goals. If the city declined to do so, the team would have had to pay an exit fee and could have left Nashville after the upcoming season.

Leipold met with team employees in Nashville later Wednesday afternoon to tell them about the sale. Team officials could not be reached for comment.