Ottawa Senators sale update: Another potential owner is poised to make a bid

We can add another name to the list of potential suitors for the Ottawa Senators.

Three sources familiar with the Senators sale proceedings confirmed to The Athletic that a group headed by Los Angeles-based entrepreneur Neko Sparks is preparing to submit a bid to purchase the NHL franchise when the sale process formally opens. The sources are familiar with the potential ownership bid but are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Sparks, who owns a tech firm and a media production company as part of his portfolio, has the ambition of becoming the first Black owner of an NHL franchise. Sparks would be the front person for a consortium that would include between 13 and 15 investors from the United States and Canada. Roughly 75 percent of the ownership group would be comprised of people of color.

A source familiar with the group’s plans says they are poised to compete with other bidders.

“They are looking at going upwards of $950 million for the team. If they have to go there, they will,” says the source. “They have the backers and the financial instruments to pull this off.”

Last month, The Athletic reported that Michael Andlauer and Jeffrey Kimmel had emerged to the forefront of the Senators ownership conversation. Other names such as Patrick Dovigi and the Paletta family were also said to be studying their options regarding the sale of the team.

The consortium headed by Sparks is not affiliated with other potential bids that have been publicly identified. However, a source indicated the group has “a couple of major players with high visibility from Canada.” While the Sparks group has not been in contact with the likes of Daniel Alfredsson or Ryan Reynolds, they are expected to come to the table with some significant star power of their own.

“One of the major partners is a major force in the music industry. He has worked with everyone from Jay Z to The Weeknd to Drake,” says a source. “They have relationships with individuals with high visibility that can be ambassadors for the team.”

The Sparks group believes they can help generate significant revenue in a downtown arena at LeBreton Flats by attracting concerts, festivals and other events using their connections in the entertainment industry.

“They also have solid plans on how to fill the arena on the other 300 days when the Senators aren’t playing,” says a source.

Sparks was immediately intrigued when the Senators officially announced they were for sale in early November. He flew from Los Angeles to Ottawa to attend the Senators game on Nov. 16 against the Buffalo Sabres at the Canadian Tire Centre. Sparks’ LinkedIn profile picture now features a photo of him standing near the ice level at the Canadian Tire Centre.

Neko Sparks (Photo via LinkedIn)

Forbes Magazine’s most recent franchise analysis pegged the Senators franchise value at $800 million — a 52 percent increase over its previous valuation. Despite seeing the biggest percentage gain of any NHL team, the Senators are still only the 24th-most valuable franchise in the league according to the publication. The Sparks consortium sees this as an opportunity for significant growth in the years ahead.

“They think the Senators are at the bottom of the list in terms of franchise valuation and they see a lot of ways to increase that valuation,” says a source.

While he’s certainly not a household name, Sparks has nearly two decades of experience in the technology and entertainment sector. His media company — iSparked Labs — are specialists in developing AI-powered interactive content and gaming. Sparks’ tech firm Pixel Lime describes itself as a “cutting-edge AI and immersive technology company.” Pixel Lime lists Universal Studios and the United States Post Office among their high-profile clientele. The company has been working with the Senators marketing department on some tech innovations to expand the hockey club’s digital footprint.

The prospective ownership group has a vision of merging technology and culture while watching a Senators game to make it an immersive, inclusive experience “whether someone is at the arena or not.”

The Senators sale process — which is being handled by New York-based Galatioto Sports Partners — is moving at a pace slower than anticipated. One source who is familiar with the sale process told The Athletic on Thursday that “nothing is happening.”

The feeling is that GSP will grant access to the club’s data room to legitimate suitors at some point this month — possibly within the next two weeks. While the Sparks group appears interested in purchasing the hockey club, they still need to clear the vetting process from the NHL before they have access to the Senators data room.

Data rooms are commonly used by companies ahead of significant merger or acquisition transactions. It’s a secure website that houses all of the privileged data that a potential new investor or owner would want to view. The data room allows the potential new owners to get a very realistic and unfiltered look underneath the hood of the organization they intend to purchase. Once the potential groups have access to the data room, they can formally submit a bid to purchase the team.

Last spring, The Athletic reported there were multiple groups who were willing to buy the Senators with the master plan of keeping them in Ottawa. The Sparks consortium appears to be the latest group to join that list of potential suitors for the NHL franchise.

And if nothing else, it’s become abundantly clear that GSP and the NHL will have no shortage of options to choose from when the process reaches the point where they are formally accepting bids.

(Photo: André Ringuette / NHLI via Getty Images)

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