Checketts-led group to buy Blues

Published March 24, 2006 1:47 am
Storied NHL franchise: $150 million purchase also includes arena team plays in
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Not even two years after diving into sports ownership by bringing an expansion soccer franchise to Utah, millionaire entrepreneur Dave Checketts has landed one of the most storied franchises in the National Hockey League.

The Bountiful native and part-time Utah resident leads an investment group that has agreed to purchase the legendary but foundering St. Louis Blues - the team will have its record streak of 25 consecutive playoff appearances snapped this year - from Wal-Mart heirs Bill and Nancy Laurie for $150 million, The Salt Lake Tribune has learned.

The deal also includes the Savvis Center, the arena where the Blues play in downtown St. Louis, and will cost Checketts far less than the $250 million that sources said the Lauries initially wanted for the franchise.

The sale will be announced at a noon news conference today in St. Louis, though it still requires the approval of the NHL Board of Directors. That's considered a formality, even though Blues president Mark Sauer has said the process could take up to two months.

Checketts originally planned to announce the sale on Thursday, sources said, but put back the news conference until today in order to attend the jersey retirement ceremony for Karl Malone during the Jazz's 109-97 loss to the Washington Wizards at the Delta Center. Checketts was scheduled to leave for St. Louis on a private plane after the game.

A former Jazz president and general manager who now owns the Real Salt Lake soccer team and owns a family retreat northeast of Park City, Checketts declined to comment on reports of the deal. But in between greeting old friends in the subterranean hallway of the Delta Center, he acknowledged he was excited about the upcoming announcement.

The deal concludes a 10-month sale process that had hockey fans in St. Louis fretting over the future of their beloved team.

The Blues have been a sporting cornerstone of the city since beginning play as an NHL expansion team in 1967, even though they have never won the Stanley Cup. Checketts has promised not to move the team, though, and sources said a clause in the purchase agreement specifically prohibits a move - even if he wanted to make one - until after the 2010-11 season.

Checketts and his Sports Capital Partners group negotiated to buy the Blues last year shortly after the Lauries put them up for sale, but talks broke down over the asking price. Only one other serious bidder emerged, and the Checketts group resumed negotiating with the Lauries once their talks with Andy Appleby of General Sports and Entertainment failed.

The lack of serious bidders allowed Checketts to buy the franchise at a substantial discount from the initial asking price - he paid a $10 million deposit three weeks ago as part of the binding purchase agreement, sources confirmed - and only slightly more than the $140 million at which Forbes magazine valued the franchise and arena last fall. It also figures to vault Checketts to a new level of influence in professional sports.

The team has said it has lost some $225 million since the Savvis Center opened in 1994.

The Blues have had one of the highest payrolls in the NHL since the Lauries bought them in 1999, but the owners have cut payroll substantially since putting the team up for sale. Teams around the league also are experiencing increased profitability and value in the wake of a new labor agreement with the players.

The 50-year-old Checketts also has recently purchased KALL-AM 700 radio station in Salt Lake City, and is negotiating for a new stadium to house RSL.

He met with the Salt Lake County Council earlier this week, in fact, to make a case that $45 million in hotel tax money should be used to help pay for his proposed $145 million stadium complex in suburban Sandy. It's unclear whether the Blues deal will affect those negotiations.

Checketts has a long history in professional sports and has some experience with hockey.

He was the youngest chief executive in NBA history when he was named president and general manager of the Jazz in 1984, when he was 28 years old. Malone was his first draft pick and Checketts himself picked up Malone at the Salt Lake airport to welcome him to the city, beginning a friendship that has lasted more than two decades.

Checketts later became president of the New York Knicks and president and CEO of Madison Square Garden, the company that owns the New York Rangers, Knicks, Liberty, Madison Square Garden and the MSG television network. Checketts founded Sports Capital Partners in 2001.

Neither the St. Louis Blues nor the NHL returned calls seeking comment Thursday.

The Deal

* Dave Checketts, owner of Real Salt Lake, agreed to buy the St. Louis Blues on Thursday for $150 million.

* The deal also includes the Savvis Center, the arena where the Blues play in downtown St. Louis.



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