CEO of Summit Distributing part of 16 local
investors who purchased the team from Dave Checketts
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The final hurdle of a long and at times agonizing saga in the sale of the Blues came to fruition Thursday morning when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman introduced Tom Stillman and a group of local partners as the new majority owners.
Stillman, who is the Chairman and CEO of Summit Distributing in St. Louis and has been a minority partner of the outgoing group led by Dave Checketts and SCP Worldwide since 1997, purchased the team for approximately $130 million.
It was a long and sometimes arduous effort to get it finalized, but Stillman, a Minneapolis native who played college hockey at Middlebury (Vt.) College, completed the sale of the team Wednesday and was formally introduced along with 15 partners as part of the ownership group. The purchase included the Blues, the lease to Scottrade Center, the team's American Hockey League affiliate Peoria Rivermen and substantial interest in the adjacent Peabody Opera House.
Tom Stillman was introduced as the eighth owner in Blues history at a
Thursday press conference.
"We think this is a monumental, historic and really terrific day for St. Louis and for the Blues," said Bettman, who referred the Blues as a member of the 'Original 12.' "We know how important St. Louis is to the NHL as a hockey market and we also know how important the Blues are to St. Louis as evidenced by the fact that there are so many active alumni from the Blues who choose to stay here and live in retirement here.
"[Stillman] bleeds bluenote blue, and he has been somebody that has been in dogged pursuit of controlling and operating and running this franchise for at least the last two or three years. ... This fulfills, I believe, a dream for the Blues and for the city of St. Louis because the future is bright, bright, bright. I know that this is somebody who is committed as anybody to running this franchise in a first class way. ... I know he won't rest until the players are hoisting the Stanley Cup."
What began as a two-year process in May 2010 with Checketts and SCP Worldwide announcing plans to sell the Blues after the primary investment group [TowerBrook Capital Partners, LP] planned to divest its interest in the team, Checketts could not come up with a comparable plan to purchase the team himself. There was also an attempt which included a potential buyer in Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer before that attempt hit a dead end.
But Stillman becomes the eighth owner of the Blues since the franchise began in 1966, with their first season being 1967-68.
"To have the opportunity to lead this organization," Stillman said, "to be stewards of its present and future, is way beyond my wildest dreams. It's an honor that I take very seriously, as will the rest of our group.
"A lot of times I didn't think it was going to happen. It was something I thought and the members of our group thought was the right outcome. I said to some people if there was another strong local option, I'd have been OK with that, too. I thought it [was] best to have the Blues franchise in the hands of local owners. That's the best outcome for the Blues."
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.
Stillman, a passionate hockey fan who is known to lace up the skates often with Blues alumni brings an end to a frustrating path that loyal Blues fans have come to expect.
"These are dedicated St. Louisans who've shown long-time commitment to our community," St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said of Stillman and the new owners. "We know they will continue to lead the Blues in success in the future, and we appreciate that.
"The Blues have been a mainstay in our community for so many years. Not only are they a great and exciting team to watch on the ice, but they give back to our community in so many different ways as an organization and individually as players. We can only expect that their work and their commitment to grow and to get even stronger in the future."
TCP is a private-equity firm that had been the team's top investor since 2006 with a 70 percent stake. 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.
"It has truly been an honor to have been the principal owner of the St. Louis Blues for the last six seasons," Checketts said in a statement released Thursday. "I take a tremendous amount of pride in what we have accomplished on and off the ice over that time and believe the organization is in a much better place now than when we arrived. There are no better fans in the National Hockey League than in St. Louis and I would like to thank them for their continued support, encouragement and patronage.
"... We are happy that [the Blues] are now in the hands of local ownership and wish them well. We will continue to be Blues fans and enjoy what is a promising future."
Stillman entered the picture immediately once it became known that there was an opportunity for local investors to step in and prevent any opportunity of an ownership group moving the Blues out of St. Louis, which was never an option. He signed a purchase agreement in January.
"We aim to put the Blues on solid financial footing," Stillman said. "We need to make the franchise stable and sustainable. On the ice, we're now one of the elite teams in the NHL. We're strong, talented with a mostly young core. This team accomplished a lot this year.
"On the financial side, we have work to do. It won't be easy, but with the support of fans, businesses large and small, and with everyone's help we'll get that done to assure the Blues franchise is strong and successful in St. Louis for generations to come and insure the long-term health of the St. Louis Blues."
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.
Stillman's group includes Jerald Kent, Chairman and CEO of Suddenlink Communications and Cequel III; Donn Lux, Chairman and CEO of Luxco; James Cooper, Managing Partner of Thompson Street Capital Partners; Jo Ann Taylor-Kindle, President of Enterprise Holdings Foundation; W. Stephen Maritz, Chairman and CEO of Maritz Inc.; Edward Potter, a private investor; Andrew Taylor, Chairman and CEO of Enterprise Holdings, Inc.; David Steward, Chairman of World Wide Technology, Inc.; James Kavanaugh, CEO of World Wide Technology, Inc.; John Danforth, Stillman's father-in-law and former U.S. Senator and Ambassador to the United Nations and current partner of Bryan Cave, LLP; Christopher Danforth, owner and CMO of Kennelwood Pet Resorts; James Johnson, Senior Vice President of Stifel Nicolaus and Co.; Scott McCuaig, a former President of Stifel Nicolaus and Co.; John Ross Jr., President of Summit Development Group and Thomas Schlafly, partner of Thompson Coburn ans founder of The Saint Louis Brewery.
Also, Stillman is currently in talks with former Blue and Hockey Hall of Famer Brett Hull to become a part of the new management team.
"I'm hopeful that Brett will be joining us in a substantive management role," Stillman said. "I'm actively talking to him. I'm hopeful that we'll work something out there."