Tuesday, May 8, 2012

NHL Board of Governors approves sale of Blues to Tom Stillman

Sale expected to close today for approximately $130
million, include former Blue Brett Hull in management position

ST. LOUIS -- In a long and sometimes long and arduous effort to get it all finalized, the sale of the St. Louis Blues surpassed one of two final hurdles Tuesday night.

The NHL Board of Governors approved in a unanimous vote the sale of the Blues to a group led by minority owner Tom Stillman, CEO of Summit Distributing of St. Louis.
Tom Stillman

In what began as a two-year adventure with outgoing owner Dave Checketts and SCP Worldwide announcing his plans to sell the Blues after the primary investment group [TowerBrook Capital Partners, LP] planned to divest its interest in the team and Checketts could not come up with a comparable plan to purchase the team that also included a potential buyer in Matthew Hulsizer before that hit a dead end, Stillman has come through with a group that will purchase the Blues, the team's AHL affiliate Peoria Rivermen, the lease to Scottrade Center and a lofty percentage of the Peabody Opera House.

The closing of the sale, with a figure at approximately $130 million, is expected to be finalized today and an announcement could come as early as Thursday with a press conference.

Stillman's investment group includes the Taylor family, who own St. Louis-based Enterprise Holdings, former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo. [Stillman's father-in-law]; Donn Lux, CEO of Luxco and Steve Maritz, CEO of Maritz, Inc. Also, former Blue and Hall of Famer Brett Hull is expected to be a part of the new management team.

The sale of the team comes days after the Blues were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Western Conference Semifinals in a series sweep by the Los Angeles Kings that included the NHL controlling the team's finances in the end.

Stillman, a passionate hockey fan who is known to lace up the skates often, has been a minority owner since 2007. He brings an end to a frustrating and sometimes frustrating path that loyal Blues fans have come to expect.

"A local guy that's passionate about the game, he's around the rink as much as the players are," captain David Backes said Tuesday. "He's on road trips, he's skating himself with [Blues] alumni.

"A guy that's passionate, from the St. Louis area ... what more could you want. It's nice to hopefully have that situation stabilized and stop talking about it and get onto business, which is in the ice and taking care of business there."

The deal comes exactly two years to the month [May 2010] that Checketts announced that TCP, a private-equity firm that has been the team's top investor since 2006 with a 70 percent stake, was divesting interest in the team. In December 2010, Checketts felt like that he had an investment group "95 percent" assembled to purchase the team, but in March 2011, announced that he could not reach agreement with TCP and was selling all interests.

Reports last year indicated that Hulsizer, a Chicago businessman who unsuccessfully tried to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes, was purchasing 70 percent of the franchise and a newly created firm by Checketts would control the remaining 30 percent. Hulsizer even signed a purchase agreement from the NHL in October 2011 and was given a Dec. 31 deadline to complete the deal. However, it was not met.

Once the NHL terminated Hulsizer's putchase agreement, Stillman entered the picture, and they signed a purchase agreement in January.

"Tom is putting together a group of distinguished people from St. Louis, and if it all comes together, we think fans of the Blues have reason to be very comfortable and excited about the future of the club," NHL Commisioner Gary Bettman said in January.

Checketts purchased the Blues in 2006 from Bill and Nancy Laurie for $153 million. The Blues were valued at $157 million in December by Forbes Magazine, which ranked 27th among the 30 NHL franchises.

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