Thursday, January 10, 2008

Leipold to buy Wild

Minnesota Sports & Entertainment (“MSE”), the parent company of the Minnesota Wild, announced today that an agreement has been signed to sell the Minnesota Wild and its related entities to Craig Leipold. Financial terms were not disclosed, and the final sale requires approval by the National Hockey League and other regulatory approvals.

Bob Naegele has been the majority owner of the Minnesota Wild since the NHL granted an expansion franchise to the team in 1997. Mr. Leipold, a resident of Racine, Wisconsin, recently completed the sale of the Nashville Predators, a team he owned since the expansion franchise was awarded to Nashville in 1997.
The Wild had said this morning they had a big announcement to make, but you always wonder if 'Gaborik makes all-star team' qualifies.

But this — this is big news.

Finally free of his commitments in Nashville, Leipold remains in the NHL ownership fold by buying into one of the most successful markets in the league. Racine is only about 500 kilometres from St. Paul, so this is as close as he could get to owning his hometown team.

ESPN's Scott Burnside first reported Leipold's interest in the Wild back in August, so a hat tip to him.

The real question I have is why Naegele wants out, as with a full building every night, business is good for Minnesota. Leipold has $193-million in his back pocket after the Nashville sale, and my guess is the Wild would fetch quite a bit more than that, so there's definitely a good return on Naegele's $80-million expansion fee 11 years ago.

And perhaps that's reason enough.

This is Leipold's reward for the frustrating process he went through with the Predators sale, for turning down Jim Balsillie and waiting for a less moneyed local group to get its ducks in a row. Leipold's long been called one of commissioner Gary Bettman's biggest supporters on the board of governors, so it should come as no surprise he's back.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press was at today's press conference:
"It really is an honor for Bob to pass the baton down to me," Leipold said. "This is a genuinely incredible moment. For you hockey fans, know one thing: I am incredibly passionate about hockey and I am committed to winning a Stanley Cup."

"When you look at a franchise that embodies everything a franchise wants to be, this is the franchise everyone wants to be. This is the new standard. For a little boy from Neenah, Wis. ... to become part of this franchise is nothing short of incredible," he said.

Leipold said Naegele will stay on as an investor.
Leipold also said he plans to buy a home near the arena and that he will start going to games starting next week.

Some fans are a little uneasy about the switch at the top:
Winning aside, the way the Wild have been operated from Day 1 has been absolutely unimpeachable. The second NHL team in the Twin Cities learned from the mistakes of the first, and has made the right move for Minnesota hockey in almost every circumstance. In the ten years since the expansion team was awarded to St. Paul, the Wild have made every effort to become part of the fabric of what they call the "State of Hockey," one of the great marketing slogans ever dreamed up.

I like the way the Wild are run. And so a new owner makes me nervous.
There hasn't been a ton of reaction from the blogosphere so far, as there really aren't a lot of Wild blogs, but I'll monitor what's happening as the day goes along.



At 2:22 p.m., January 10, 2008, Blogger AdamBez said...

Well Naegele is over 80 yrs old, so maybe he wants to get things in order in his life and relax for a while with his family. He has been very active in the organization.

At 2:26 p.m., January 10, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope Leipold doesn't ask for welfare money from the rest of the league again. Nice to have a parasite back in the fold and one of Bettman's small market, small minded cronies that exist to do nothing but hinder real hockey markets but sucking revenue out of it.

At 2:31 p.m., January 10, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I don't think that'll be a problem given annual revenues are more than $30-million greater on his new team.

At 2:39 p.m., January 10, 2008, Blogger Rob said...

Dateline 2009 - History Repeats Itself.

Cleveland Barons redux: Leipold's master plan finally comes to fruition as he solves the Preds' problems by facilitating a merger with the Wild to become a Western Conference powerhouse!


At 2:45 p.m., January 10, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bettman is once again rewarding his loyal soldiers in the small markets.
Anything to keep Balsillie out of the league.
At least he's not going to be siphoning money away from the Canadian teams.

At 3:55 p.m., January 10, 2008, Blogger YzermanZetterberg said...

[i]"When you look at a franchise that embodies everything a franchise wants to be, this is the franchise everyone wants to be. This is the new standard. For a little boy from Neenah, Wis. ... to become part of this franchise is nothing short of incredible."
-- Craig Leipold[/i]

Whoa...I thought you said he bought the Wild, not the Red Wings! ;)

Seriously though, good for him after the way Bettman made him twist in the wind RE: the Balsillie ordeal. It's interesting how this deal was kept completely behind closed doors though, huh?

At 4:20 p.m., January 10, 2008, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

"It really is an honor for Bob to pass the baton down to me. . . "

You know, I suspect that Leipold doesn't want us to interpret this in the way that would be grammatically correct.

At 6:45 p.m., January 10, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stephen Brunt said on Team 990 in Montreal this was pay back for not selling the Predators to Ballsillie which would have exposed the territorial veto the Leafs and Sabres have over the most lucrative market in the NHL, which would have resulted in a nasty anti trust lawsuit against the NHL.

At 10:13 p.m., January 10, 2008, Anonymous Gerald said...

Brunt knows nothing. Sorry, James, I know he is a fellow Globe guy, but his business knowledge is zero and falling hard.

I see this "payback" crap slowly falling into the realm of the Hockey Fan Canon. Never mind the sheer ludicrousness of it all. Never mind that Balsillie's conduct indicated his bid was nothing more than a lark. Never mind that he did not even use upper tier counsel (or even next-tier, to be honest), making one question his bid even more. Never mind that his tactics were so ludicrously ham-handed such as to cause any serious businessman like Leipold to run away (interestingly enough) both shivering with the willies and giggling with derision at the same time. As Leipold did.

Yep, it was Bettman all right. Guffaw.


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