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Since when is a better deal a bad thing?

August 23, 2011, 12:26 PM ET [ Comments]
Paul McCann
Nashville Predators Blogger •Predators Radio Network • RSSArchiveCONTACT
If it’s just before hockey season, you can count on a silly story misrepresenting something about the Predators coming out from a member of Nashville’s media. The next one will come out just around opening night, you can bet the farm on it...

Let me start out by saying that I respect serious investigative journalism, and most times have enjoyed Phil Williams reporting, but I have a serious problem with the report submitted by Mr. Williams yesterday on WTVF. You can see the report on channel 5’s website. It basically intimates that the Predators were trying to reward an NHL insider with an extensive contract without opening it up to outside bidding. Best I can tell, Mr. Williams doesn't like that this deal will decrease taxpayer money going into the arena.

The funniest part of the whole report (and the biggest indicator of a smear job) is the lead…
“NewsChannel 5 Investigates has uncovered a plan to give a whopping new contract at the Bridgestone Arena to an National Hockey League insider.”
Hmmmm… they blew the lid off this one… they uncovered something that was presented in public… TWICE! Darn they’re good. (sarcasm /off)

The report used all kinds of buzzwords designed to incite, words like “insider” and “no-bid contract.” Plus the report included extensive interview time with someone named Ben Cunningham, a political operative that best I could tell… has absolutely nothing to do with the deal, or the entire whipped up so-called controversy.

The other prominent interview inside this piece was with Nashville attorney Steve North, a member of the Sports Authority, who was featured looking and sounding very concerned about this new proposed concession contract. In fact Mr. North was so concerned, that he was absent from the July meeting where Predators COO Sean Henry made the presentation. This continued Mr. North's rather disconcerting pattern of absences from Sports Authority meetings... The approved minutes from each meeting are posted on the city government website (Nashville.gov,) those meeting minutes indicate that North was absent from 70% of the Sports Authority meetings in 2010. There are no minutes posted on the site for 2011 yet, attendees at the July meeting confirm that North was not in attendance. However, a fellow board member asked a question for Mr. North, indicating that Sports Authority business may have been discussed between these two members, outside of a Sports Authority meeting... which may be a violation of Tennessee’s Open Meetings Law. Another interesting tidbit is that, according to attendees, Mr. North was at the June special meeting of the Authority and praised the work going into this new concession deal. None of that was even hinted at in Mr. Williams report.

The most fascinating and perhaps the most disingenuous part of the report was Mr. Cunningham stating the following...
"Everybody talks about job creation, job creation. Well, this is a prime opportunity to create jobs and give local companies a shot at a local contract,"
Wow… that sounds great! Why wouldn’t the Predators do something like that… contract with a local company?

Perhaps because there may not be one, a cursory Google search doesn’t indicate a local company with experience in providing such specialized service. Even though the impression was made that the two companies Mr. Williams quoted in his report, Titans concession provider Centerplate and Aramark, were local, when in fact these companies are headquartered in Connecticut and Philadelphia respectively. Not exactly local…

Now comes the most disturbing part of this story… I quote from the transcript…
Delaware North's (Sportservice) biggest competitors, however, suggest that they were never called.
A spokesperson for Centerplate, which provides concessions at LP Field, released the following statement:

"As far as I can determine, having spoken with all appropriate Centerplate staff, I can say that we have no record of contact in connection with a solicitation to provide services at the Bridgestone Arena. As the leading hospitality provider to North America's premier sports venues, we would certainly welcome the opportunity to explore providing world-class hospitality to the facility."

Aramark hinted the same:

"As a leading food and beverage provider for sports and entertainment venues across the country, we're continually exploring opportunities that would result in mutually beneficial partnerships that drive business growth and deliver memorable guest experiences."

What is so disturbing about that? It is completely untrue… or the spokespeople for those companies are woefully uninformed! I spoke to Predators President and COO Sean Henry this morning to get his reaction. He was quite upset about the perception left by this story, as he entertained five executives from Centerplate this past spring, these five executives included a Sr. Vice President, the Vice President of Sales, the VP of Operations, the VP of Facilities, and Centerplate’s local GM. They toured Bridgestone Arena and discussed current and future business. Both quotes are full of weasel words, saying nothing really, but Henry confirms that a Senior VP of Aramark has had multiple conversations with Predators CEO Jeff Cogen, the last one being just a few weeks ago. Now if a simple blogger could come up with this information, I wonder why Phil Williams couldn’t.

Look, I’ll be the first one to step up and say that improvements are necessary to Bridgestone Arena concessions, but what wasn’t talked about in last night’s report was the fact that the existing contract had no incentive or requirement for Sportservice to improve. What wasn’t talked about was the fact that the contract with Sportservice was for another 22 years as it stood. This new contract will take Davidson County taxpayers off the hook for almost $3 million to improve the concession stands at the arena. That is a significant piece of information that was tellingly absent from Mr. Williams reporting. Another piece of information not reported is that the fees collected from Sportservice goes up, almost 10 percent from the current capped level of 48% to the new cap of 52%. The other positive that I see is the new agreement takes effect immediately, instead of waiting for over two years to see the benefits, These improvements will lead to shorter wait times and better service which will lead to increased revenues.

Mr. Williams was correct in saying that Sportservice is owned by the same company that owns the Boston Bruins, but he needed to do more homework... Another major player in the stadium/arena concessions market is a company called Ovation, they are owned by the same company that owns the Philadelphia Flyers, & 76ers. ProSports Catering is owned by several minor league baseball owners, Diamond Creations, based in Utah also owns several minor league franchises and facilities. Let’s face it… the stadium/arena concession business is a rather incestuous one; almost any deal you can discuss can be described as an insider deal. All of this truly makes me wonder if anyone is driving this story on behalf of other business interests… ones that run counter to the interests of the city. Following the money is always a good idea.

I don't understand the constant drumbeat of negativity that comes out of certain members of the Sports Authority. I know they have a job to do, but it seems some more than others like to get in front of the camera to sell an agenda. The undercurrent coming from some members of the Sports Authority simply stinks, and Phil Williams seemed only too happy to do their bidding in this piece. That’s rather disappointing for a high-profile journalist that I previously greatly respected.


Random Note

- 23 days till training camp opens.


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