The Hockey News - Money & Power
TOM CIGARRAN’S GREATEST
strength as Nashville Predators’ chairman is that he knew what he didn’t know.
He was installed as leader of the team’s ownership group in March 2010 and it was not long before he sought help. A successful executive and entrepreneur in the healthcare industry, he reasoned that he could run the operation with common sense. What he wanted was a person with experience and expertise in the sports-entertainment industry. His search led him to two.
In September 2010, Jeff Cogen was named Predators CEO and Sean Henry was named COO. Both had worked with NHL franchises in non-traditional markets and each had strengths that, when combined, were invaluable for a franchise that at the time was struggling financially and seemed ripe for relocation.
It arguably was the most important decision in Predators history. The impact has exceeded that of any trade or signing made by GM David Poile. Nashville, one of the league’s best teams in recent seasons, has the majority of its roster signed to long-term deals and was riding a sellout streak at Bridgestone Arena that exceeded 100 games – and showed no signs of ending – when the 2018-19 season opened.
Once he installed Cogen (now working for MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays) and Henry (promoted to CEO in December 2015), Cigarran stepped back from day-to-day operations, allowing them to do as they saw fit and shape the vision for the franchise. He doesn’t keep a permanent workspace at the Preds’ executive offices but uses a vacant office on those times when he is on site, typically only several hours a week.
Nearly all of the 13-member ownership group were emotionally invested in the team before they bought into the club. The vast majority are Nashville residents and prominent members of the local business community who were season-ticket holders dating back to the inaugural season of 1998-99. To this day, they watch games from their traditional seats rather than the suite level – Cigarran included – and interact freely with fans. Henry is as likely to brief them on developments during impromptu personal conversations before, during and after games as he is via official memoranda. Formal conference calls take place six to eight times annually.
The group came together in 2007, spurred to action by venture capitalist David Freeman, who also was a part of the healthcare industry, as a reaction to Canadian Jim Balsillie’s publicly proclaimed desire to purchase the franchise and relocate it to Hamilton, Ont. Predators Holdings LLC purchased the team and Powers Management, which operates the arena, on Dec. 7, 2007.
Beyond the rooting interest he had in the Predators, Freeman was convinced it would be bad for all Nashville business if the city were saddled with the reputation that it could not support a professional sports franchise. A personal financial situation forced him to reduce his role in 2010.
It was at that point Cigarran became chairman, even though he does not have the biggest stake in the team. That distinction belongs to Herb Fritch, the majority owner (just over 50 percent) and retired healthinsurance magnate who also serves an assistant governor (Henry and Poile are assistant governors as well).
Cigarran, 75, has the secondlargest stake. Next in terms of financial input are two Middle Tennessee families that operate an array of successful businesses, the Thompsons (DeWitt Thompson IV and his son John Thompson) and the Jacobs (Joey Jacobs and his sons Brent and Scott). The remainder of the group includes Freeman;
venture capitalist Joel Dobberpuhl and his wife, Holly; Cigarran’s son, Christopher, a healthcare executive in his own right; financier Warren Woo; and, Calgary-based businessman Brett Wilson, who also has a Nashville residence. The team never has revealed the exact breakdown of the shares.
It is a poorly kept secret that Fritch will one day replace Cigarran as chairman. Whenever it ends, Cigarran’s tenure as head of the ownership group will be defined by what he did at the start. – DAVID BOCLAIR