The Blues' ownership is returning to local roots.
Tom Stillman will drive 12 minutes to Scottrade Center from his St. Louis home today before stepping to the podium and having his group of area investors named as the next owners of the city's hockey team.
"A guy that's passionate, from the St. Louis area ... he's around the rink as much as the players are, he's on road trips ... what more could you want?" Blues captain David Backes said.
Blues fans, who haven't experienced St. Louis-based ownership since the Kiel Center Partners ran the franchise from 1991-99, might have wanted the sale to happen more quickly. But after a two-year process, the most desirable outcome in terms of the city's best interest appears to have unfolded.
On Wednesday, a day after the National Hockey League's Board of Governors approved the purchase, a deal that will put the Blues into the hands of several of the area's most prominent businessmen closed with the banks.
A press conference announcing the sale has been set for 11 a.m. today at Scottrade Center, officially beginning the Stillman era and ending the six-year run of the New York-based SCP Worldwide, led by Dave Checketts.
Stillman, CEO of Summit Distributing, a St. Louis-based beer distributorship, is not new to the Blues. In 2007, he became minority owner of the team, supplying Checketts with a local investor and an area business connection.
In the last five years, Stillman hasn't been in the public eye, but he's been as visible as anyone in the organization at games, practices and team functions. He is on the board of trustees of the Blues' 14 Fund, a charitable trust created in 1998 to honor former Blues player Doug Wickenheiser.
"I've got a chance to know him over the last couple of years," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "The first thing that jumps out, he's passionate about hockey. He plays in 3-on-3 tournaments in Minnesota and Wisconsin in the middle of the winter, he skates with the (Blues) alumni, so he loves the game.
"He's nice to have around because he cares about hockey, cares about hockey players, and he challenges you by asking interesting questions. He's a fun guy to be around."
Stillman's pursuit of the Blues began about two years ago when Checketts announced that TowerBrook Capital Partners, the club's No. 1 investor, was divesting its 70 percent stake in the team.
Stillman started to assemble a group that was reshaped over the last 24 months but has kept a strong nucleus with his father-in-law, former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo; Steve Maritz, CEO of Maritz Inc.; Donn Lux, CEO of Luxco; and the Taylor family, owners of St. Louis-based Enterprise Holdings.
It's a "Who's who" of area business leaders, a list that is expected to grow in quantity and name recognition when the deal is announced today.
"Tom went out and raised a lot of local money," Checketts said Wednesday in his first public interview regarding the sale since last summer.
Stillman had the financial backing, but Checketts had no desire to sell to him for two reasons.
Some animosity had surfaced in their relationship, according to several sources, because Checketts had made unsuccessful attempts to land local investors and keep the team, while Stillman secured those investors.
"It's a hard time to find buyers for clubs, particularly clubs that have shown a propensity to lose a fair amount of money," said Checketts, who claims the team spent "upward of $100 million" during his ownership. "I think you can say, 'What if we hadn't had all of the injuries? If we had this year's season last year, I think (the sale) would have gone more quickly. I think the team's success, the good feelings around the team, the sold-out crowds, all of those things, I think it gave (the local investors) a lot of courage to move ahead with it."
Secondly, Checketts' asking price for the Blues, the Scottrade Center lease, the Peoria Rivermen of the American Hockey League and Peabody Opera House was an estimated $190 million, according to sources. (SCP Worldwide paid $120 million in 2006, and last December, Forbes valued the Blues at $157 million, 27th among 30 NHL teams).
Stillman "came in and offered us $110 (million)," Checketts said. "That meant that for all of our work and all of our success, we were going to get crushed and lose literally every dollar of investment. It wasn't fair. So I had to go find another buyer in Matt Hulsizer."
Hulsizer, a Chicago businessman, signed a purchase agreement to the buy the Blues last October. The deal was for a listed price of $180 million, but the actual sale price was $130 million, including a future earnings agreement for Checketts. He also would have been an investor with close to a 30 percent interest.
Hulsizer came close to becoming the Blues' owner, but the NHL set a deadline of Dec. 31, 2011, to finalize the purchase, and he failed to close in time. The league terminated the agreement and gave Stillman a chance to match. He signed a purchase agreement in January and spent the last four months solidifying his commitments and ironing out the details.
"Tom received the right to match that offer when Matt fell down," Checketts said. "I think it's a win-win. We get a price that we can live with, and he gets his hands on the team.
"Tom and I do have one thing in common, and that is that we both love the Blues and are both very hopeful that this is the club that can finally break through that barrier and bring the Stanley Cup to St. Louis. I wish him only the best. I wish him all well, I do."
Asked whether he had any regrets, Checketts replied: "Of course I have regrets, but I'm not going to get into them because as far as the way I think about it, we did our very best. We can be criticized for not spending more, I guess. But holy smokes, we put our whole heart and soul and our money into this deal."
Now, Checketts moves on and Stillman moves in.
"It's exciting to think that we'll have new ownership and it will be settled, but it wasn't a factor at all during the season," Blues forward Andy McDonald said. "But yeah, to get some stability and know that (the Blues' talent base) is going to be here for a while would be a big bonus for us."