Saturday, February 26, 2011

Blog blast past: Balsillie boarded; the Phoenix Coyotes story few people read

As you know, the bond sale that would keep a NHL hockey team in Glendale, Ariz., has gone awry. Reading back to July 30, 2009, it's not surprising when you realize whose interests the NHL and most politicians are really representing these days.

The NHL really showed Wednesday how as a business, it is a game of TEGWAR, The Exciting Game Without Any Rules.

Jim Balsillie's camp smartly pointed out minutes after he was denied that this had nothing to do with his fitness to be an owner, and that the judge in Arizona said in June that the league would have to show he didn't have the cash. Of course, the nets had already been moved, like a group of kids moving their ball hockey game down the street (which might cheese the judge off, but that is neither here nor there). Bruce Arthur's National Post column pointed out, well, if it wasn't money, then it had be something else, but this is the league that let future felon Boots Del Biaggio into the fold.

Granted, being the person who waits for Canadians to wake up to what Gary Bettman's NHL stands for is like being sent out on a snipe hunt. Please, though, sometime between now and the next labour stoppage, clue in that denying Balsillie, again, really betrays that the NHL always represents its interests to the bitter end. It's just that those interests have nothing to do with the great game of hockey and everything to do with corporate malfeasance that could launch six Naomi Klein screeds and a couple Bruce Cockburn ditties. They won't care you could have three teams in Southern Ontario which would each draw more than the Phoenix Coyotes (with higher ticket prices) until the day when the U.S. economy is really up a creek.

The Coyotes are just a game piece in a scheme where, to quote an alternative weekly said the week Balsillie's bid for the Coyotes became public, a "broke" city is "also trying to line the pockets of some of the wealthiest investment groups in New York City, Saudi Arabia, and Abu Dhabi." (Phoenix New Times, May 14.)

The above link came via Make It Eight, Eh?. From the look of it, a Hamilton, Ont., insurance broker named Craig Ferguson, over the run of this sordid saga, has evolved from a thinking fan's case for the NHL to put more teams into Canada to advocacy for taxpayers in Arizona in the wake of a swindle/boondoggle which is going down in the American southwest. You really should, if you have time, read through it since Ferguson makes it clear why the hell Jerry Reinsdorf wants to own an unprofitable hockey team which has never been about hockey from the day it arrived in the desert.
"The attraction to the Coyotes hockey team has always been an issue of land development opportunites and great deals with government, and the profits that would go along with them. Nobody in their right mind would take this team with the clear math currently in place. As soon as (former owners Jerry) Moyes and (Steve) Ellman broke up the land from the ice, that’s when the 'Coyote' should have chased the Roadrunner out of town.

"Are we to believe, as mentioned by the Reinsdorf camp, and now even by the new Canadian/American mixed coalition represented by Daryl Jones (Research Edge LLC) that trying to share in a little bit of food and parking is going to cut the mustard? 'Little things add up' is the argument? Were we born yesterday? And, if I might add, if Daryl Jones and his group thinks they are going to break into this game with nickel and dime thinking, they had better think again. Like all politics, what would make sense from a genuine, honest angle usually doesn’t win the prize."
In other words: Cha-ching! Ferguson has flipped over a couple other rocks, noting two weeks ago that Jerry Reinsdorf's son is "is a director of a partnering firm, International Facilities Group (IFG), that has a hand in consulting the City of Glendale for the arena, and more."

It is not like this should shock anyone. For the most part this is the way of the world, at least up until Bear Stearns went nips-up last fall. (At this point, one should allow that maybe the NHL would like Balsillie to pay $350-400 million for an expansion team instead of $212.5M for an established team. At some point, though, these guys have to stop playing the Canada card.)

Most sports fans, regardless of background or intelligence, would be like, "Why should I care that the the city of Phoenix is going to hand over $100 million in subsidies in return for 200 public parking spaces at a time when it can't afford to open public pools? I just want to know if the team is going to relocate or not." Thankfully, no one needs a public pool in a desert during a time of high unemployment). That is just the nature of following a sport, nothing wrong or evil about it.

However, it does seem crazy how few in Canada have really gone to lengths to explain how the Duel in the Desert, so-called, was more than Gary Bettman and Bill Daly delivering a big screw-you to Jim Balsillie. In the grand scheme, this only reaffirms Canadians' Pavlovian slavishness to the NHL. Hockey is a wonderful sport, perhaps the best of the team games, and the NHL is more appealing to watch that it has been at pretty much any point in the Bettman era.

At the same time, to repeat Peter Gent's "every time I say it's a business you call it a game and every time I call it a game you say it's a business" corollary, let's have some clear eyes. At the end of the day, this league Canadians hold so near and dear is run by some not-too-nice people who are only to eager to be part of greater outrages. On a macro level, it does affect the competitive product.

It was nice to speculate for a couple days when that one bid group for the Coyotes talked about playing games in Halifax or Saskatoon and having an AHL team in Thunder Bay. Maybe that was akin to The Simpsons episode when Monty Burns ran for governor: "They're like seals. Toss 'em a couple fish and watch 'em jump."

Point being, smarten up. The next person who says Balsillie needs to learn to play by the NHL's rules should get two minutes for bein' stupid. (Outgoing Montreal Canadiens George Gillett actually accuse of him creating a "distraction" that caused the Habs' season to go downhill was a new low. (Mr. Gillett, I have with me a Mr. Jared Allen who has debunked the myth athletes can be distracted, and he's not above using physical force to make a point.)

Rules? The NHL has but one that it honours, realizing its place as a pipsqueak in the lumbering dinosaur of the American economy, 2009. Balsille, to borrow a line from those Ford ads which have been playing all summer, might "pulled off a game-changer" by moving the Coyotes to Southern Ontario, but there were other interests to defend.

Gary Bettman fits right in with the Boomer mentality where old-economy businesses hide that they are just going around in circles, slowly losing ground before realizing time has run out. The commish is a pipsqueak in the grand scheme of bankrupting America, but like any good CEO, he knows who he works for. That's why they pay him the big bucks.

As previously stated, "It would be silly to use the league's idiotic business practices to justify non-interest in what happens on the ice." However, this has been an exercise in the NHL as usual. It has no rules and when you have no rules, you have less of a game.

Balsillie vows to press on; BlackBerry billionaire given rough ride by NHL's board of governors as bid for troubled Coyotes rejected (Paul Waldie and David Shoalts, Globe & Mail)
NHL: Anybody but you, Balsillie (Bruce Arthur, National Post)


Greg said...

I'm very interested to see how attendance in the Sun Belt franchises and in the Rust States is going to fare this season.

Let the NHL's Lost Decade begin!

Big V said...

I`m not sure I understand why anyone would want to own the Phoenix Coyotes and not move it.
Its not like the team is good, or are going to be contenders, according to all reports they lose money.

There mus be some kind of hidden agenda which is attracting people to keep it in Phoenix.

If I had 170 million dollars to buy the team (and the NHL let me), I`d buy it and right away turn around and sell it to Balsillie for the 230 million... that way i`d make an easy 60 million, and Queens University would get a new Stadium.

MisterDB said...

If - Balsille wins the NHl will probably appeal and tie it up in courts, not to mention Glendale suing Balsille when he moved the team.

If The NHL / Reinsdorf wins then can you say anti- trust lawsuit from Balsille and if there are concessions to the new owner can you saw taxpayer revolt in the form of a lawsuit

What a mess, and I thought the Frontenacs were screwed up.

What really is sad is this whole Coyote fiasco is probably is the best entertainment the NHL has given in a long time on a day to day basis.

Anonymous said...

' the NHL would like Balsillie to pay $350-400 million for an expansion team instead of $212.5M for an established team'

That is, in a nutshell what I have been saying all along. Why else would the Board of Governors approve an owner to keep a team that they had been propping up? Answer: They are also owners who want to divvy up that 350 million.

When Bettman sees Balsillie he sees red..but eventually, he will see green. Oh, and if that 'Southern Ontario' team happens to be in Toronto, proper consider the fee to be closer to 500 million.

Dave said...

Sports teams are quite often real estate plays, arenas, stadiums, land, commercial, there's WAY more money to be made (since free agency has killed the bottom line OPERATIONALLY for most). Been that way at least since the Dodgers left Brooklyn and probably long before that (though the teams made money too, then). I don't think adding up attendance and multiplying by ticket price equals "we gotta bring this team back to Canada". Our teams for the most part will always be "second division" clubs trying to eke out an existence, because we don't seem to "play ball" politically here, realizing that "Big Money" is only too happy to pay the whole shot, and the jobs and facilities we'd get back free of charge would be worth it, if we only "sweetheart" some land, concessions or give a tax break or two. As we will EVERY TIME to the "arts". As evidenced in Ottawa with the whole Lansdowne proposal. Inexcusable. They'll pay for and revitalize the whole place, for nothing, costing not much more than an approval. We'll always be a second-class sporting nation until we decide to participate like other places do. said...

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