Former Tennessee governor Bill Haslam is nearing a deal to purchase the NHL’s Nashville Predators, according to people familiar with the transaction.
The team’s ownership group is controlled by Herbert Fritch, a healthcare entrepreneur who took over as chairman in 2019. There are 16 others listed as owners on the team’s website. Haslam is the brother of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.
The Predators in a statement confirmed that Fritch will sell the majority of his stake to Haslam, with the former governor transitioning from minority to majority owner “within the next few years, through a multi-phased purchase transaction.” Haslam is expected to acquire his minority stake in the next few months, pending organization and NHL approval. “Discussions have proceeded smoothly, and definitive documents are being drafted,” the team said. Attempts to reach Bill Haslam through his brother were unsuccessful.
Sportico valued the club at $680 million, 26th in the NHL. The average NHL team is worth $934 million.
If the team is sold, it would be the second NHL team in the last 12 months to trade hands after the Fenway Sports Group purchased the Pittsburgh Penguins late last year.
Haslam’s father, Jim, founded gas and truck stop company Pilot Corporation, which Bill and Jimmy ran in the 1990s (Bill as president and Jimmy as CEO). Haslam was governor of Tennessee from 2011 to 2019, serving as Knoxville mayor before that. Forbes estimates his net worth to be $2.3 billion.
The Predators, which joined the NHL in 1998, have a loyal following in a city with a deep musical history and not a lot of pro sports competition. The team averaged 18,489 fans per game last season, one of seven NHL teams to average a sellout across all 41 home games. The franchise has made the playoffs in 15 of the past 18 seasons, including a run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2017.
The team plays in Bridgestone Arena, in downtown Nashville, which opened in 1996. The arena is owned by the local stadium authority, but operated by the team, which means the Predators share in the economics of concerts and other shows held in the building. That’s a lucrative business–the arena was the 13th highest-grossing arena in the world (and sixth in the U.S.) for touring events in 2019, the last full pre-COVID year for live entertainment, according to Pollstar numbers.
The team was purchased in 2007 in a $175 million deal.
(This story has been updated in the headline and throughout with details of Bill Haslam as the potential buyer, and also with a statement from the Predators in the third paragraph.)