Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Checketts expects to have Blues sold by start of season

Team's owner says developments have escalated in recent weeks 

ST. LOUIS -- Dave Checketts remains status quo publicly as far as the sale of the Blues are concerned.

He says the process is moving along. But there's an internal sense that a conclusion is in sight.

Things seem to be heating up like the St. Louis summer.

Checketts, the team's owner, was in town Wednesday at Barnes-Jewish Hospital to announce that the opening gala performance on Oct. 1 at the Peabody Opera House will include Aretha Franklin and Jay Leno. Proceeds from the opening night will benefit the John L. Trotter Multiple Sclerosis Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. He also spoke with reporters regarding an update on the sale of the Blues.

Checketts and his group SCP Worldwide, who announced in April along with majority investors TowerBrook Capital Partners, L.P. that they were placing the Blues up for sale, have seen developments in recent weeks heat up.

Blues principal owner and chairman Dave Checketts.                   (AP photo)
Game Plan LLC, a Boston-based firm conducting the team's sale, also was involved in the purchase of the franchise when Checketts bought the team in 2006. They seem to feel like things are progressing in a positive manner.

"I think the statement (from Game Plan Founder and Chairman Robert Caporale) speaks for itself," Checketts said. "There's a lot of interest and I really think Game Plan is really doing a great job with the people we're working with. There will be a successful conclusion."

Although a date is not etched in stone, Checketts expects the sale's conclusion to come by the start of the 2011-12 season. There are reports that as many as five different groups have shown interest in purchasing the franchise. One that was recently reported by the Toronto Globe and Mail is a group led by Matthew Hulsizer, a Chicago businessman who recently pulled out his longstanding bid to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes. There's also a group led by current minority owner Tom Stillman, Chairman and CEO of Summit Distributing in St. Louis.

Checketts would not specifically disclose any names/groups involved but did say that things have certainly moved in the direction they have been looking for. And while Checketts also would not say the Blues are focusing specifically on one particular bidder, he did say, "We'll be there shortly. It's a process. People take a look at things, numbers. It's a sale process. Pretty simple.

"We expect to have something done by the start of the season. ... We expect to have an orderly sale process. It'll be done by the start of the season."

There was also a report in the Globe and Mail that when the sale of the franchise is completed, Checketts could stay on in a minority ownership capacity should Hulsizer's group purchase the team. He denied that anyone has approached him in that regard.

"I haven't been approached by anybody in that way," Checketts said. "I had to put the whole thing up for sale and that's where we're headed. ... We went through that process for awhile. We didn't find anybody that way, and I had to agree with TowerBrook that I'd put the whole thing up for sale."

Checketts seems to be in good position with more potential buyers coming forward, which could drive the sale price of the Blues, the lease to Scottrade Center and the AHL Peoria Rivermen skyward.

With the recent sale and relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg and near-completion of a sale for the Dallas Stars, potential bidders seem to be turning their attentions toward the Blues.

"To go pay $250 (million) for Dallas, how do you justify that? ... That's the price of an NHL franchise in Dallas," Checketts said. "The price of an NHL franchise in St. Louis ... in my view is a healthy franchise. It's a healthy, healthy price because we have a healthy franchise."

Checketts also said today that his affiliation with the NBA's Detroit Pistons is about to come to an end, likely when a new head coach is named. Checketts and Pistons owner Tom Gores are close friends and the Blues' owner was brought in as an advisor. Checketts took some criticism for taking on that role while trying to sell the franchise here. Checketts, when asked if he saw himself back in the NBA one day, said yes, someday.

"People can say whatever they want. Tom Gores is a good friend of mine and he just asked me to take a look at the organization," Checketts said. "That's probably cost me three days.
"I know everybody wants me to get this thing (in St. Louis) concluded, but we're working diligently in that direction."

Checketts also had a message for Blues fans who might be concerned with the direction of the team while awaiting an ownership transition:

"We stepped up and kept our whole team together and added some free agents," Checketts said. "I think (general manager) Doug (Armstrong) and (president) John (Davidson) have really done a great job. I'm really excited about the season. If fans had a reason to be worried, it would be we hadn't signed T.J. (Oshie), we did nothing at the free agent (signing period). That would be a cause of concern. We went out and kept our whole team together. The young talent is back. I think we're solid everywhere. I really feel good about it and we went out and got two guys (Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott) to come into the locker room who have both won Cups. That's what I'm excited about."

Checketts said he in no certain terms hindered Armstrong in any way to try and improve the team.

"We said two things," Checketts said. "We said we want to keep the team together. We believe in what has been done in the past and that we've laid a foundation for success. And in addition, managed the payroll in a way that gives you some flexibility in case something good happens on the free agent market. I think (Armstrong) handled it perfectly. He hung around and hung around, he didn't get in on the early bidding, which was ... that first weekend was stunning. But I think he came up with some really terrific guys to add to our team. I'm very excited about the way this team looks for the (upcoming) season, the way they're going to play and the parts (to the team)."

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