Are The Preds Now The Prey?
Patience for Preds' owner wearing thin
Al Strachan / Special to FOXSports.com
An increasing number of hockey fans feel about the Nashville Predators the way Dr. Seuss felt about Marvin K. Mooney.
Will you please go now?
Craig Leipold often has his hand out, to both Nashville taxpayers and the NHL. (Staff / Getty Images)
You can take a boat. You can take a plane. You can take a powder. You can take Dr. Seuss' famous zike-bike or crunk-car. It doesn't matter. Just go. We're sick of you.
This is a franchise that has done nothing but whine since it came into the National Hockey League. Its continued presence doesn't warrant the aggravation.
It has been given every opportunity to succeed, but like the stereotypical spoiled brat, it continues to blame others for its failures — and then stick out its hand.
The latest assault upon our sensibilities came last week with the announcement that if attendance doesn't skyrocket by 25% for the rest of the season, owner Craig Leipold will be in a position to demand a further $2 million from beleaguered Nashville taxpayers and lay the groundwork to move elsewhere.
To this, we say: Please do move elsewhere. Like into oblivion, for instance.
Leipold won't comment upon this suddenly unearthed clause in his agreement with the city, but the timing of its emergence seems awfully convenient. It's just the latest in a long litany of whines, demands and implied threats that have emanated from this team since its inception.
No one, with the possible exception of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, ever thought there should be a hockey team in Nashville in the first place. And if Leipold is stupid enough to depend upon Bettman for hockey advice, then he deserves everything he gets.
Think about it. Did you ever hear anyone suggest that what the NHL really needed was a team in Nashville? Quite the contrary. The reaction of most hockey fans after the franchise was awarded was, "What the hell are they going there for?"
Still, Nashville taxpayers were imposed upon to do everything they could to feather Leipold's nest.
For starters, the Predators were given an 18,500-seat arena. Yes, given. Outright. The arena in question was built in 1996 at a cost of $145 million.
By contrast, around the same time, the Montreal Canadiens were building an arena to which the taxpayers contributed not a penny. In fact, the churlish Montreal city council, even though private enterprise was regenerating a part of town that was threatening to go to seed, billed the Canadiens for lost parking-meter revenues caused by the construction.
But back to Nashville. A free arena wasn't enough for Leipold. No, he had to have luxury boxes. So his free arena was remodelled to provide them — at a further cost to taxpayers of $14 million.
But the team would need a place to practice because the arena occasionally would be used by other events — to the benefit of Predators owners, of course.
So the Nashville taxpayers provided a practice arena as well. And just to make sure Leipold didn't have a cash-flow problem, the city even kicked in 25% of the team's $80 million expansion-franchise fee.
But those heartless money-grubbers down at City Hall then made life really difficult for the Predators. It seems the team has to pay rent on the building. All of $50,000 a year.
Players' apartments rent for more than that.
So poor old Craig Leipold had to be compensated for the indignity. As if the deal weren't already sweet enough, the Nashville council drowned it in honey.
The Predators were given all the ticket revenues, all the board advertising revenue, all the scoreboard revenue, all the luxury-box revenues, and all the parking revenues.
Great deal? Absolutely phenomenal. But wait. There's even more.
The Predators also get all the revenues from the sale of team merchandise. And all the revenues from the sale of the arena's corporate name. What's left? Concessions? There, the city council dug in its heels. The poor mistreated Predators got only 40% of the concessions revenue.
You'd expect that the Predators would at least have to pay annual taxes on their property like the rest of us. You'd expect wrong. They don't.
Yet after all this largesse, who is front and foremost when Bettman is threatening to shut down the league for a year? None other than Craig Leopold. "We can't compete," he whined again and again.
Leopold was one of the core owners in Bettman's inner circle, the people who made the ultimate decision to all but destroy the game in the United States in an attempt to increase their personal profit margins.
Then last season, thanks to the CBA that Leipold had played a major role in crafting, the Predators grabbed the largest revenue-sharing payment — more than $10 million. Some say it was $12 million. Oddly enough, the Predators are quiet on that point.
When the NHL governors met a few weeks ago and attempted to institute a sensible schedule that would see every team play each other at least once, the proposal fell one vote short of passage. Needless to say, Leipold was against it.
His travel costs would rise if that schedule came to pass. We wouldn't want that, would we? Lets get our priorities right.
General manager David Poile is also a world-class whiner when it comes to the precarious financial plight of the Predators.
"In 2003-04, we played Detroit in the playoffs," he recently told the Vancouver Province. "Our payroll was $23 million. Theirs was $78 million. I don't care what business you're in, you can't compete when there's that kind of disparity."
First of all, if the Predators' payroll was only $23 million, they had no one but themselves to blame. There were plenty of free agents out there. They could have gone out and acquired some.
Secondly, no doubt Poile recoils in horror when someone mentions the word "baseball" because that sport has a free-enterprise system. But that too is a business and those who follow it would remember the Detroit Tigers breezing past the New York Yankees last October. Detroit's payroll? $82 million. New York's payroll? $195 million.
The people who run the Predators seem to think that the National Hockey League exists only for their benefit. They want money from the city. They want money from the fans. They want a system geared to help them succeed. They want. They want. They want. And at the first sign of any obstacle to their demands, they whine and demand more.
We've had enough. We couldn't care less if your ugly uniforms are never seen again. To paraphrase a song that emanated from your fair city, "Take your team and stuff it."