The man of the moment in the NHL seems to be RIM CEO Jim Balsillie. His plans to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Southern Ontario (recent reports suggest Hamilton is the number one candidate) have been gaining momentum over the last few days and it is looking more likely than ever. As they should be most hockey fans are excited about this potential move. Taking a struggling team to a thriving hockey area. The only people who seem to be upset about the way things are panning out are, Gary Bettman, all seventeen Phoenix Coyote fans, and Toronto Maple Leaf owners MLSE.
Of course anything that takes the game away from a struggling market in the United States and moves it to what is sure to be a successful market in Canada is a bad thing for Bettman. This time however it looks like Bettman will have no alternative other than to let the deal go through.
On the other side of things MLSE has to be very disappointed about the possible competition another team in Southern Ontario would bring, but to all you Leaf fans out there don't panic. In fact for the Leafs there really is nothing better for the organization than a little bit of competition.
For years MLSE has been content with a very poor product on the ice as long as the money keeps coming through. Of course with the Leafs being such an major brand it's been a pretty easy sell, especially pre-lockout when Toronto was a consistent playoff team.
This meant that Leaf fans had to put up with five years of the John Ferguson Jr. era. Since Ferguson's firing in 2008 things are starting to look up with the hiring of Burke. Even with Burke at the helm, MLSE still cares very little about the product the Leafs are putting out on the ice, as long as they continue to rack up the cash.
A new team in the area would change that. With the threat of losing bandwagon fans (which in Toronto tends to be most of the city, just look at Raptors attendances this year vs. last year) MLSE will be forced to make sure they do everything they can to improve the team. If this new Hamilton/ Southern Ontario team makes the playoffs before the Leafs do you can be more than sure that the GTA would get behind this local team and several fans would inevitably be swayed to follow the new, more successful team.
Leaf fans wallets may also be considerably fuller if Balsillie brings a team to the Toronto area. Leaf tickets are not only very difficult to get, but also extremely expensive. For many people getting to games is impossible. Balsillie has already shown support to hockey bloggers, and his commitment to making this a fan accessible team has been outlined. He will be sure not only to offer significantly reduced ticket prices, but also make them more available to the general public. In a city with two major universities, filled with students livinig on limited budgets this would be very good news to many.
Now it is naive to think that anything would stop the Leafs from continuing to sell out every game, but MLSE wants to make sure that the Leafs continue to make revenue through paraphernalia, TV deals and sponsorship deals. If fans are leaving to go watch a more accessible team in the area, then there will undoubtedly be a major revenue loss. In order to keep the fans they have MLSE may have to change a few things up on the business side of things as well.
However inadvertently, Balsillie could force major improvements in the Leafs organization, so Leaf fans out there should welcome him with open arms into Southern Ontario.