NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -Nashville Predators owner Craig Leipold reached an agreement to sell his franchise to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie after 10 years of losing money.
Leipold told Predators' employees of the sale in a meeting Wednesday afternoon in Nashville, according a person familiar with the sale who spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday night on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been finalized.
Whether the sale would involve relocation of the franchise remained unknown. The NHL's Board of Governors must approve any sale, but the Predators have struggled to sell tickets for years and their future in Nashville has been in doubt.
Team officials declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press.
Balsillie, the co-CEO of Blackberry makers Research in Motion Ltd., has offered an undisclosed amount for the team, Canadian sports network TSN reported. In December, Balsillie withdrew his offer to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins for $175 million after being rejected by owner Mario Lemieux for a higher offer.
Leipold had been looking for a local investor to buy a minority share of the team and lobbying publicly the past months for more local involvement to boost lagging ticket sales. He announced a new naming rights deal for the arena last Friday that he said could help keep the team in Nashville.
The Predators have risen from an expansion team that began playing in 1998 to one of the top teams in the NHL, with a franchise record 110 points this season and a third-place finish in the league standings.
But they lost in the opening round of the playoffs for a third straight season despite trading for Peter Forsberg in February.
The team averaged only 13,815 per game this season, which allows Leipold to exercise a clause in the team's contract with the city of Nashville to ask for a "cure" season. That would force Nashville to either buy enough tickets to boost attendance to 14,000.
If the city declined, the team could leave by paying an exit fee following the upcoming season.