Preds 'Never Asked' Competitor About Arena Contract
By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Nashville Predator team officials are backing off claims about how hard they tried to make sure taxpayers got the best deal at Bridgestone Arena.
They are also scaling back their plans to give a new concessions contract to a National Hockey League insider.
Predators officials insist the deal they're pushing is still good for taxpayers who own the downtown arena. But, as they appeared before the Nashville Sports Authority, their answers raised even more questions.
"If there is a way that we could get a better deal, then I think we ought to at least explore it," Sports Authority member Steve North told Predators President Sean Henry.
During a lengthy meeting, members of the Sports Authority wrestled with the proposal pushed by the Predators. It would give a new concessions contract to the company that's had the arena's business since 1996.
That company, Delaware North Sportservice, is owned by Jeremy Jacobs, chairman of the NHL Board of Governors.
"The more we look at this deal, the better we'll all realize what a good deal it is for us," Henry insisted.
Still, the Predators president acknowledged the team's original plan probably was not legal. It would have given Delaware North a brand new, no-bid contract -- with a clause that could have extended it to 2043.
Now, after questions raised by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, the team has scaled that back to just a 12-year extension of the current contract -- in exchange for the company immediately spending more than a million dollars on improvements at the arena.
There is no extension clause.
"We said let's just terminate it," Henry explained. "So when this deal ends in 2023, that clause goes away as well."
Yet, some Sports Authority members have questioned Henry's claims at the last meeting that there's no way taxpayers could get a better deal.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Henry, "You told the Sports Authority that you had contacted each and everyone of Delaware North's competitors."
"I didn't say that," he insisted. "I don't think that I contacted every competitor."
But that's exactly what Henry claimed during the July meeting of the Sports Authority when asked if the team had contacted other vendors who might be able to offer a better deal.
"We reached out to each and every one of them, explaining what we wanted to do and why," he said.
After that meeting, the biggest concessionaire in the country, Aramark, wrote to Predators CEO Jeff Cogen that it had just learned about the "proposed new agreement" with Delaware North.
Aramark insisted it was prepared to offer "enhanced economic terms" -- in other words a better deal -- with a "greater capital" investment in the arena.
We asked, "You said you all were in contact with them about this proposal. Why were they so surprised?"
"I can't speak for Jeff Cogen," Henry answered, saying that the Predators CEO had all the conversations with Aramark.
So we asked Cogen.
"Michael Thompson (an Aramark senior vice president) called to congratulate me on the position," he explained, referring to his appointment to Predators front office.
But Cogen acknowledged that, when the Aramark executive called him, he actually refused to talk about what the company could do for taxpayers.
"He said, I'd like to talk to you about it. I said, we're under existing contract. We're going to operate in good-faith extension conversations with Delaware North."
So was Aramark ever asked if the company could do better?
"I never asked him that," Cogen admitted.
Sports Authority members also asked Sean Henry about whether he had followed up to see what kind of deal Aramark put forth, but he blamed Aramark for not following up with a formal proposal.
What he didn't say was that Cogen had already written back essentially telling them not to bother.
He admitted that it's not impossible that one concessionaire might be buy out a contract that another company holds at an arena.
In the end, the Sports Authority was so concerned about the language of the new contract proposal that they abruptly adjourned -- until they can get together with their own legal and finance experts to decide whether or not it's really good for taxpayers.