Canadian buys minority interest in Predators

Montreal Canadiens goalie Peter Budaj (30) stops the puck with the help of centre David Desharnais...

Montreal Canadiens goalie Peter Budaj (30) stops the puck with the help of centre David Desharnais (2nd L) after a shot by Nashville Predators right wing Patric Hornqvist (3rd L) during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Nashville, Tennessee on Nov. 12, 2011. (REUTERS/M. J. Masotti Jr.)

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:07 AM ET

It only makes sense Brett Wilson wound up spending some of his considerable wealth on an NHL hockey team.

After all, it was at the rink where he essentially started building a fortune some have pegged (erroneously, he insists) at more than a billion dollars.

"I refereed all through university in Saskatoon, making seven bucks an hour doing commercial hockey games at night," said the former Dragons' Den star from his Calgary office.

"Remember, this was back when minimum wage was two or three bucks. It was great -- we'd go break up fights for a couple hours. You could say hockey and cab driving started my wealth."

After years of red tape, Wilson officially became an owner of the Nashville Predators Wednesday, purchasing 5% of the club.

And while it has long been public knowledge he was a signature away from being tied even closer to the Tennessee town he so loves, what wasn't known was why the longtime Flames season-tickets holder wouldn't instead join the ownership ranks of his hometown team.

"I would love to have bought a piece of the Flames but they are the best-owned team in the league," said Wilson, 54, who co-founded FirstEnergy Capital Corp with Flames owner Murray Edwards.

"The current owners have deep pockets and are highly committed and none of them wanted to sell. I know all the owners well and did have discussions with them on an ongoing basis but there wasn't a fit there."

So, he did the next best thing, which was use his Flames friends to add the Predators to his "portfolio of fun."

"My references were an alumni member, the president and two owners of the team," laughed Wilson.

"My heart is still with Calgary but my wallet is with Nashville. I'll be cheering for the Flames every game -- except when they play Nashville."

Having spent the bulk of two weeks partaking in the pandemonium that swept through Nashville during their first playoff series victory last spring, Wilson added, "I'll probably get in more playoff games there than I would in Calgary."

It wasn't meant to be a shot.

A serial investor whose success in investment banking has allowed him to be one of the country's biggest entrepreneurs and philanthropists, Wilson also owns Derby County (Soccer) Club in England and the Jackson Generals baseball club, where he met majority Preds owner, David Freeman.

"This has been a long time coming," said Wilson of the deal delayed by ownership restructuring and even fraud.

"The day I was supposed to sign paperwork (former Predators owner William) 'Boots' Del Biaggio was caught with his hands in everybody's till. It shut everything down because I was going to buy his shares. I never did talk to him because he went away somewhere to a crowbar hotel."

Citing Nashville as "one of the great cities in the world," Wilson also saw an upside for a franchise that had just 12,000 season ticket holders a few years back.

"This year it's 16,000 and the talent there is extraordinary," said Wilson, who has a residence in Nashville to oversee his music interests, amongst other things.

"We just signed the goalie (Pekka Rinne) and we have two of the best defencemen in the game (Shea Weber and Ryan Suter)."

Ah, but will his team be able to sign one or both when their deals expire next summer?

"Everything is negotiable," laughed the man who knows that better than anyone.

"It's fair to say we want them."

Generally speaking, what Brett Wilson wants, he gets.

Time will tell if that holds true in his latest venture.

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/ericfrancis

Eric Francis appears regularly as a panellist on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada


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