Time is running out on the effort to keep the Predators in Nashville, as negotiations on Tuesday showed little progress toward today's deadline and ticket sales were running slow.
A mostly local investors group has until the end of today to buy the hockey team from owner Craig Leipold. That won't be possible, given all the approvals still needed, but Leipold could give the group more time before he starts talking to other potential buyers.
Meanwhile, the community is coming up short on its one sure way to require the Predators to stay in town — buying tickets.
After six home games, the Predators' paid attendance average stands at 12,305, well below the 14,000 that would enforce the team's 30-year lease of Sommet Center.
However, attendance traditionally picks up in the second half of the season, after football ends.
"That's the ultimate ace in the hole that we have," Mayor Karl Dean said last week.
Metro Councilman Charlie Tygard said he was anxious about the pace of negotiations between the investors and Dean's administration to change the lease, which the investors say they must do to buy the team.
"I guess I'm concerned that the deadline is fast approaching, and we're not hearing anything pro or con," Tygard said Tuesday. "I'm certainly hopeful that we can reach some kind of agreement, or I hope Craig Leipold will grant an extension."
Margie Newman, a spokeswoman for the buyers, said the group was "still working toward the Oct. 31 deadline unless they hear otherwise." She said she wasn't aware of the group's asking Leipold for an extension; Gerry Helper, a Predators spokes man, said he wasn't aware of Leipold's being approached for one.
"Everybody's focused on getting the deal done," he said.
Coach doubts distraction
Tygard said he would like to see Dean wrap up the negotiations and present a deal to the Metro Sports Authority and Metro Council, both of which have asked for a week to consider major lease changes.
"I'm to the stage now, I would like the mayor to put (forward) the best deal possible that he can offer legally to protect the taxpayers, and it's time to let the public see what it is, discuss it and vote it up or down," he said.
Dean's spokeswoman, Janel Lacy, said, "We're not going to do a deal without a full public discussion, and we hope we can start that discussion soon."
More than five months after Leipold first announced that he had reached a preliminary deal to sell the Predators, Tygard said he worries that the process could be distracting the team, which was 4-6 going into Tuesday night's game at Calgary.
"Perhaps this uncertainty has filtered down into the performance of the team. I'm not saying that's the whole reason they're 4-6, but in professional sports, you've got a fragile chemistry, and anything that disrupts it on any level sometimes is more than what they can overcome."
Predators Coach Barry Trotz said he didn't think that was the case.
"It's more of a distraction probably when we are not playing than when we are playing, because once you start playing it better not be a distraction," Trotz said before Tuesday's game. "It doesn't show very good focus, it doesn't show very good preparation.
"We just have to block it out. It is what it is. We are going to be in Nashville for hopefully a long time, or a few years, or we don't know. All we know is we are here this year so let's live in the moment a little bit. That's all you can really do."
Predators fan Liz Parrott, a local attorney and a season ticket-holder for the team's nine years, says she still believes things will work out for the best.
"I'd say there's still cautious optimism,'' said Parrott, a former president of the team's booster club. "We want the deal to go through and we want to keep them here. There's that undying hope that they will stay here and get something worked out.''
Parrott said she believes that even though it's unlikely a deal will be reached by the end of the exclusive negotiating period today, the two sides are moving in the right direction.
"I think it's a long-term process that's made huge strides,'' she said. "They've made enough strides that they're not just going to throw in the towel and say, 'We're done.' ''