Breaking: Checketts to announce Blues purchase Friday; new details

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Dave Checketts, the Utah-born sports entrepreneur who owns Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake team, has completed a deal to purchase the St. Louis Blues, The Salt Lake Tribune has learned.

Checketts, whose investment group is paying $150 million for the legendary National Hockey League franchise, will announce the purchase on Friday at a noon press conference in St. Louis, sources told The Tribune.

Checketts, who lives in Connecticut but is frequently in Utah, had negotiated with the Blues last fall to purchase the team but talks fell through over the asking price, which sources put at $250 million.

With the completion of this deal, Checketts and the investment group he heads and founded, Sports Capital Partners, will take over the Blues and the Blues' lease of the arena, the Savvis Center.

Checketts was in Salt Lake City on Thursday and attended ceremonies for the retirement of Karl Malone's jersey by the Utah Jazz.

Checketts, who declined an on-the-record interview request by The Tribune, said only that he was "excited" and was flying to St. Louis following the game late Thursday night.

Last fall, Forbes magazine valued the Blues franchise and arena at $140 million and reported that the team had lost $225 million since the building opened in 1994. Under the ownership of Bill and Nancy Laurie, who purchased the franchise nearly seven years ago, the Blues have had one of the highest payrolls in the NHL.

Since announcing the team was up for sale, the Lauries have cut payroll substantially and the league itself, as a result of last year's new labor agreement, has increased profitability and the value of most NHL franchises substantially.

After breaking off talks with the Lauries in November, Checketts and his partners resumed negotiations when it became clear no one else would meet the Lauries' initial asking price.

Checketts expressed optimism late last year that he would ultimately prevail in his quest for the franchise and he paid the Lauries a deposit of $10 million three weeks ago that essentially sealed the deal, according to an NHL source. Checketts, 50, also has recently purchased Utah's AM-700 radio station, KALL, and is working on completing a deal for a new stadium for Real Salt Lake.

Checketts has told The Tribune he saw no scenario in which he would move the Blues from St. Louis. Checketts has a long history in professional sports and has some experience with hockey. He was, at 28, the youngest chief executive in NBA history when he was named president and general manager of the Jazz in 1984. Malone was his first draft pick and Checketts himself picked up Malone at the Salt Lake airport to welcome him to the city, beginning a friendship that has lasted more than two decades.

Checketts later became president of the New York Knicks and president and CEO of Madison Square Garden, the company that owns the New York Rangers, Knicks, Liberty, Madison Square Garden and the MSG television network.

Checketts, who attended the University of Utah and has a master's degree in business administration from Brigham Young University, founded Sports Capital Partners in 2001 and announced he was bringing an expansion MLS team to the Salt Lake Valley in 2004. The team begins its second season on April 2.

Checketts announced late last year that Real Salt Lake, which presently plays its games at the University of Utah, would be building a $145 million soccer stadium and complex in suburban Sandy.

Checketts met with the Salt Lake County Council on Wednesday to make a case for $45 million in hotel tax money RSL wants the county to provide for the project.

The St. Louis Blues and National Hockey League did not return calls seeking comment.

"For the Blues, if this indeed is the case, it's an exciting time to have new ownership," said Bart Rogers, president of the Peoria Rivermen, the Blues' independently-owned AHL affiliate. "Everybody on the hockey side and business side will now have a direction toward the future, toward next season."

Any deal would need approval from the NHL's Board of Governors but such approval is usually routine and completed in a few weeks.