Preds Propose Letting Insider's Arena Contract Run To 2043
By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - NewsChannel 5 Investigates has uncovered a plan to give a whopping new contract at the Bridgestone Arena to an National Hockey League insider.
The Nashville Predators insist that the deal involving concessions at the city-owned facility would be good for Metro taxpayers, but critics aren't so sure. That proposed contract, recently delivered by the Predators to the Nashville Sports Authority, takes what was essentially a no-bid contract and potentially extends it to the middle of this century.
"It's an inside job," said taxpayer watchdog Ben Cunningham, head of the Tennessee Tax Revolt. "This is the Predators negotiating with somebody inside their business."
That concession contract isn't just peanuts. Between the popcorn, the beer and soda -- along with the more high-end dining -- those sales raked in almost $14 million last year.
Part of that money goes to help taxpayers pay for the downtown facility.
The concession company, Delaware North (also known as Sportservice), is headed by Jeremy Jacobs, who owns the Boston Bruins and chairs the National Hockey League Board of Governors.
Jacobs' company first got the concessions contract back in 1996 when Nashville was trying to land an NHL team. A Nashville Banner article noted that "Delaware North officials got the job the old-fashioned way -- they knew somebody."
That original contract was supposed to run 10 years with options to potentially extend it -- for the right price -- to 2026.
A later amendment pushed that date to 2033.
Now, the proposed new contract could give the business to Jacobs' company through 2043.
That's 32 more years.
"Something's wrong here," Cunningham said. "Somebody is trying to curry favor with somebody in awarding this contract, essentially, in perpetuity to an outside vendor. It just doesn't seem right at all."
Predators President Sean Henry first presented the proposal last month to the Nashville Sports Authority, portraying it as a way to sweeten the current concessions deal, getting high-tech cash registers and other improvements at no cost to the city.
But longtime Sports Authority member Steve North has questioned whether the Predators can or should continue giving such deals to an NHL insider -- without seeing if taxpayers could do better.
UPDATED: Metro's contract with the Predators' Powers Management requires it to follow city purchasing procedures on contracts over $10,000.
"Is it, was it a good deal for the taxpayers -- or was it not? That's what I was primarily concerned about to begin with?" North said, adding that he did not feel like he got a good answer.
In fact, that concession contract has a window coming up in two years, where the city and the Predators could renegotiate the whole deal.
But the Predators president told the Sports Authority that he had already checked with potential competitors -- and it really wouldn't be worth the effort.
"What we built with this deal was the best of all those conversations. It can't get much better than this. I think their exact quote is "stop calling us."
Delaware North's biggest competitors, however, suggest that they were never called.
A spokesperson for Centerplate, which provides concessions at LP Field, released the following statement:
"As far as I can determine, having spoken with all appropriate Centerplate staff, I can say that we have no record of contact in connection with a solicitation to provide services at the Bridgestone Arena. As the leading hospitality provider to North America's premier sports venues, we would certainly welcome the opportunity to explore providing world-class hospitality to the facility."
Aramark hinted the same:
"As a leading food and beverage provider for sports and entertainment venues across the country, we're continually exploring opportunities that would result in mutually beneficial partnerships that drive business growth and deliver memorable guest experiences."
"If there are other competitors that want to bid and that would be interested in bidding and who feel like they could make a better deal, I think they should have that opportunity," Steve North said.
Ben Cunningham agreed.
"Everybody talks about job creation, job creation. Well, this is a prime opportunity to create jobs and give local companies a shot at a local contract," he said.
Among the other areas of concern: the proposed deal lets Sportservice pay less to the city up front, in exchange for what the Predators say should be a larger cut as sales increase.
Also, if the Predators and Nashville ever part ways, the Predator's proposal gives Jeremy Jacobs and his concessions company the right to walk away as well.
The Predators unveiled the proposal at the last Sports Authority meeting and indicated that they were likely to call a special meeting soon to ask for final approval.
So far, there's no word on when that might be.