LINDSAY CHAPPELL

Settlement rolls Tide coach into Birmingham

COMMENTARY
Lindsay Chappell is the Mid-South bureau chief for Automotive News.
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Nick Saban occupies a social position in Alabama that is approximately equal to Julius Caesar's in imperial Rome.

So imagine the surprise at Crown Automobile, the Mercedes-Benz dealership in Birmingham, Ala., for 40 years, when it learned last year that Mercedes had quietly awarded the champion University of Alabama football coach and his business partner a letter of intent authorizing them to open a Mercedes dealership in ... Birmingham.

Crown filed suit late last year against Mercedes-Benz USA to stop the deal. Crown charged that putting a second Mercedes dealership in the Birmingham market would violate Crown's franchise agreement.

The suit also complained -- without mentioning the revered Crimson Tide coach -- that the development had tackled Crown's plan to sell its store. News of the proposed competitor had caused an unnamed buyer to back out, the suit alleged.

This year, Crown subpoenaed Saban to testify this fall and bring all his notes and emails on the proposed dealership. But on Aug. 22, just days before the start of Alabama's football season, Crown and the factory reached a confidential out-of-court settlement.

Saban's attorney issued a statement saying that the proposed new Alabama dealership with Saban and his partner, Baton Rouge, La., Mercedes dealer Joe Agresti, will now go forward.

Mercedes-Benz USA spokeswoman Donna Boland wrote in an email that Agresti originally approached the automaker with the proposal to open the dealership with Saban.

"Our feeling, then and now, is that the goodwill the coach brings with him, Joe Agresti's business acumen and the enthusiasm they both have for this dealership, is going to make for a very successful enterprise," Boland wrote.

Without the settlement, the coach would have reported to court on Nov. 3 -- just days before his big game against Southeastern Conference rival LSU.

You can reach Lindsay Chappell at lchappell@crain.com.


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