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Group Offers Over $3 Billion for NHL

Friday, March 4, 2005; Page D02

Two Boston companies have offered NHL owners a way out of their labor woes: Sell the entire league -- pucks, Penguins and penalty boxes -- for more than $3 billion.

Bain Capital Partners LLC and Game Plan LLC made the proposal on Tuesday in New York, where NHL owners were meeting to discuss their next step in the lockout that canceled the 2004-05 season. The offer received an icy welcome.

The NHL erased the 2005 Stanley Cup when it canceled the season; now, two companies want to buy the league. (Dan Loh -- AP)

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"I don't think it's realistic, and I don't think there's much interest, and I know there's no interest on the part of the Bruins," said Jeremy Jacobs, whose Delaware North Co. owns the Boston team, its building, part of its TV broadcasts and the concession contracts for several NHL clubs. "And I think it takes 30 [team owners] to do it."

The Toronto Star and Globe and Mail reported yesterday that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman invited the two companies to present the offer. If accepted, the league would become a single entity, an ownership structure where most decisions are dictated by the central office.

Sports leagues structured in that way -- including Major League Soccer and the WNBA -- have avoided antitrust scrutiny in the courts, and that can translate into greater power in labor negotiations. But it has never been tried with a borderline major league with a strong union, and smaller single entities such as the XFL and the WUSA have failed.

Steve Ross, a sports law professor at the University of Illinois Law School, said courts would want to examine whether the new arrangement stifled competition.

Before the work stoppage, the total value of the 30 NHL franchises was estimated by Forbes Magazine at $4.9 billion.

-- From News Services

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