Regular readers of this blog know that I have been critical of the Nashville Sports Authority and their relationship with the Predators.The relationship between these two entities has been, at best, strained. For most of us, all we know about the relationship between the Predators and the Sports Authority is what is reported in the press. To get a better understanding of this relationship, I contacted the new Chairman of the Sports Authority and asked for an interview. Two hours later, I had a new appreciation of how these two entities interact.
J.D. Elliott is the new Chairman of the Nashville Sports Authority. Elliott is the President of the Memorial Foundation, created in 1994 from the sale of Nashville Memorial Hospital in Madison. A native of Robertson County, Elliott is active in the community, serving on the Board of Lipscomb University and World Christian Broadcasting Corporation. Elliott is affable, gracious, and very honest in his comments.
The View: How long have you been a member of the Sports Authority?
Elliott: I have been a member of the Sports Authority for five years now. I have just been named Chairman, and have yet to conduct my first meeting in that capacity.
The View: What is the role or function of the Sports Authority?
Elliott: We have two functions that we perform. First, we regulate and monitor professional sports in Nashville. We are charged with protecting the interest of the taxpayers, primarily by making certain that the professional sports teams in Nashville are in compliance with their contracts and operating covenants that were agreed upon with the Metro Council. Secondly, and this is just as important in my estimation, is to promote professional sports in Nashville.
The View: Elaborate on those functions
Elliott: The Sports Authority does not negotiate the contract between any of the professional sports teams and the City. That is done between their representatives and the Metro Council. Once those agreements are finalized, our charge is to make certain that the teams remain in compliance with the negotiated terms. These are contractual obligations of the Predators, Titans, and Sounds, and it is our responsibility to monitor compliance with the agreement that has been put in place.
One of the areas that the audit of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County covers is the monitoring of contracts and compliance with those contracts. Every entity that has a business relationship with the City of Nashville is monitored for compliance with the terms of the agreement or contract. Our responsibility is to make certain that each of the professional sports teams in Nashville abides by their agreement. We are scrutinized by the auditors to determine if we are doing our job. In turn, we monitor the compliance with the contract by the professional sports teams. That is a primary responsibility of the Sports Authority.
The contracts are very straightforward. There are certain performance measures, there are financial considerations that must be met, and there is a necessity for open and timely communication with each team. There is very little that is discretionary in the contracts, and amendments have to be approved by the Council.
The second function is to promote professional sports in Nashville. We don't get involved in the marketing programs of any of the teams. In this role, however, we get involved in promoting professional sports for the betterment of Nashville. We have done an extensive economic study that delineates the benefits of professional sports from an economic standpoint in our community. And I want to tell you, it is good, very good, that we have the Predators and Titans. They provide a significant economic benefit and a marketing benefit to Nashville. (Mr. Elliott has agreed to provide to me a copy of the latest study).
The View: How does the Sports Authority get involved in promoting the professional sports teams?
Elliott: Aside from the economic study, we are available to speak to groups or individual businesses about the impact of professional sports on our community and how the presence of these teams benefits our community, and in turn business in general. We want the business community to know that having professional sports in Nashville is good for their business and the quality of life we enjoy here.We are willing to meet with businesses to sell the value of our professional teams. We do not do individual marketing for the pro teams, but want to create an open and supportive environment so that they have the opportunity to be successful.
The View: Talk about the relationship with the Sports Authority and the Predators.
Elliott: It is certainly a positive to have local ownership. The owners live here, work here, and are truly supportive of the Nashville community. That is such a strong attribute for the Predators. The owners sincerely want this this team to do well because it is good for Nashville. That has been very well received by the members of the Sports Authority. We want the Predators to do well because they provide a significant economic impact and presence in the central business district. There would be a gaping hole in downtown Nashville without the Predators.
You can't over-emphasize the importance of the team being owned locally. Craig Leipold was great in bringing a team to Nashville, but he was never really part of the Nashville community. These owners are part of Nashville, and that is so important to making inroads with the business community and building local support. They are doing things the right way, building relationships and support in the corporate world.
We have had some aspects of the relationship that have not worked smoothly. Some of that is just breakdowns in communication. Both the Sports Authority and the Predators have learned from those mistakes and I think the relationship will be improved as we move ahead.
The View: There was a lot of publicity about the situation with David Freeman and his lien with the IRS and the resulting friction with the Sports Authority. Talk about that issue.
Elliott: There were some things discussed about which I am am not liberty to reveal. I can say first and foremost that we are glad David Freeman is part of the Predators ownership group. He is a good businessman and integral to the success of the ownership group. I want to see this resolved; no one wants David to have this matter hanging over his head.
The aspect of this affair that was the most troubling to the Sports Authority was that we did not know about this until it became a public matter. That put us in an awkward situation. It would have been much better for all parties involved to communicate about this before it became public.
That being said, David is still involved with the operation of the team and the ownership group, and will have no problems working with the Sports Authority.
There did need to be some changes made because David's situation changed his financial picture, and we had to get the ownership group back into compliance with the terms of the agreement with Metro. We had no choice in that regard. The changes that were made to the ownership group in terms of guaranties had to be made to bring the ownership group back into compliance with the contract with Metro. The decision to step down as Chairman was not forced on David.
The View: Several members of the Sports Authority had mentioned in the recent past that they are concerned with the franchise possibly relocating. Why is that?
Elliott: Part of that may have been due to a misreading or a misunderstanding of a very complex contract. It is a lengthy contract with some areas open to interpretation. One could read the relocation stipulations and interpret that the Predators potentially could move if certain benchmarks were not met, but in reality, this was not in play. I don't think this ownership group has any intent at all to relocate the team. They are committed to Nashville and are committed to making the Predators work in Nashville.
There was an area of concern when "Boots" Del Biaggio was added to the ownership group. There was not a good feeling about him and the sense was that he might be angling to get the Predators out of Nashville. As it turns out, he was not what this group needed.
The View: What is the relationship like with Tom Ciggaran?
Elliott: Very good. Tom is a good man and a good businessman. He will be great as the Chairman of the ownership group and will help build ties to the business community. Tom is very positive in his disposition and that flows over into everything he does. He will be good for the Predators.
The ownership group has changed some things around now that Tom is Chairman. Joel Dobberpuhl, one of the members of the ownership group, will be the team's Governor and represent the Predators with the NHL. Jeff is a very good and successful businessman, and I think he will be very good in this role.
The View: How do you envision the relationship between the Predators and the Sports Authority going forward?
Elliott: I think it will be very good. I have asked Tom to come to the next Sports Authority meeting and talk about what the team is doing financially and in the community. We know there have been some bumps in the road in the past, and we acknowledge those and we will learn from those. Let's look forward, though. I think Tom will be very adept at communicating and building bridges with the Sports Authority. Tom is very positive about the future of the team on the ice and financially, and we need to communicate the positives with the Sports Authority members and with the community at large.
I am choosing to look forward, and I am positive about the Predators. Know this, the Predators are good for Nashville. We need to keep on this message. Yes, we need to be realistic, we need to comply with the provisions of the contract that is in place, but we need to acknowledge that having the Predators in downtown Nashville is good for business in Nashville and good for Nashville's image.
I want to thank Mr. Elliott for his time. He was very candid in his comments and assessment of the Predators and their relationship with the Sports Authority and their impact in Nashville. I came away from the interview with the impression that the new Chairman was a realistic optimist who believed that the Predators will be successful and that they are good for our community.
Predator fans should be encouraged by the change in leadership in the Sports Authority.