August 15, 2013 / 5:24 AM / 6 years ago

NHL's Devils set to announce sale to new owner -reports

NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - The New Jersey Devils hockey team was expected to announce that Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris has agreed to purchase a controlling interest in the franchise and its arena, pending league approval, media reports said.

New Jersey Devils head coach Peter DeBoer (back 2nd L) and assistant coach Dave Barr (back 3rd L) stand on the bench with their players as they play the Ottawa Senators late in the third period of their NHL hockey game in Newark, New Jersey, April 12, 2013. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine

The Devils announced late Wednesday that the team would hold a major news conference at 11 a.m. EDT on Thursday. Sources told Reuters there have been negotiations in recent weeks to sell the team.

The Record newspaper of New Jersey reported on its website that Harris would buy a majority stake in the team and the Prudential Center for $320 million, following a vote from the National Hockey League’s Board of Governors.

ESPN also reported that the team will announce the sale on Thursday.

A spokesman for the Devils could not be reached on Wednesday night to comment. A spokesman for the National Basketball Association’s 76ers said he could not comment on the matter.

Robert Sommer, spokesman for the Prudential Center arena where the Devils play, on Thursday declined to comment.

Harris, a billionaire managing director at Apollo Global management and David Blitzer, a senior managing director at Blackstone, led a group that acquired the NBA’s 76ers in 2011 for about $280 million.

The Devils have played in the Newark-based Prudential Center since 2007, when they relocated from East Rutherford, New Jersey. The arena, championed by former Newark Mayor Sharpe James, has struggled to turn a profit due in part to a large number of competing sports and entertainment venues in the New York metropolitan area.

Forbes magazine reported that the Devils have accumulated $230 million in debt and that team owner Jeff Vanderbeek missed the first payment on a recently restructured bank loan.

Billboard magazine rated the arena as the eighth-highest grossing worldwide for the first half of 2013, however the venue, known as “The Rock,” has struggled to generate enough revenue, particularly since the departure of the NBA’s Nets to nearby Brooklyn.

Additional reporting by Frank Pingue; Editing by Dan Whitcomb, Catherine Evans and Maureen Bavdek

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