Thursday, August 06, 2009

Thursdays with RIM Jim: Making head and tail of something that should be settled with a coin flip

(If you want a short and snappy answer about where the Phoenix Coyotes will play, just say Kansas City.)

A league with a dated perspective deserves a dated analogy, so the latest turn in the Phoenix Coyotes saga makes the NHL look like the scene in Old School where Will Ferrell screams, "We can't have anyone freakin' out out there! We gotta keep our composure!"

The NHL, as always, is expressing confidence it is going to prevail. There is a half a mind to snark off, like one of Jim Rome's listeners, "Dear Gary, pro sports leagues always prevail in court, sincerely, Al Davis, Oakland-Los Angeles-Oakland Raiders."

Meantime, the realization the Phoenix Coyotes drama has — with a tip of the cap to lame-duck Ottawa GOSINOG* Larry O'Brien — is more than a big swinging dick contest has really hit critical mass since this time last week. Judge Redfield T. Baum's ruling on Wednesday really takes the animus between Jim Balsillie, Gary Bettman and 26 owners of solvent-for-now teams out of play (see From The Rink). That should be burned into memory. Everyone has seen the Phoenix New Times article which laid out the depth of the sweetheart deal Jerry Reinsdorf stood to score from the city of Glendale, Arizona.

The New Times' Sarah Fenske notes that a "good city manager ... has to do whatever he can to keep the (team)" — stop cry-laughing, Ottawa readers — "But it's one thing to fight to save a team. It's another thing entirely to fix the playing field for connected insiders." Here is the trenchant part:

"Michael Reinsdorf, who is Jerry's son, had been hired to help manage the Arizona Cardinals' stadium in 2004. (His firm, IFG, got the contract as a joint venture with Global Spectrum, a Philadelphia-based firm that just happens to employ John Kaites as a lobbyist.)

"In the fall of 2008, Glendale hired Michael Reinsdorf's IFG to assess stadium operations at the Coyotes' home, Arena. It was IFG — which, again, is Michael Reinsdorf's firm — that suggested Glendale hire Beacon, as city officials confirmed to me.

"The Reinsdorfs have a long history of working with Beacon. In fact, court records show Beacon was sued in Los Angeles by a client who claimed Beacon had leaked a confidential report to, yes, Michael Reinsdorf.

"So when the Coyotes ran into trouble, Ed Beasley brought in Michael Reinsdorf's firm. At the suggestion of Michael's firm, he brought in a second company, one that had a history of dealing with Michael Reinsdorf. Then he stood by as that firm secretly met with Kaites and Jerry Reinsdorf.

"And now we're supposed to look at the firm's analysis as neutral, looking out for Glendale's best interests?

"I simply don't buy it.

"In May, the Coyotes filed for bankruptcy. Its current owners want to sell to an investor who'd move the team to Canada; it's their only hope to recoup even part of their investment, they say. Meanwhile, for reasons that are still unclear — to me, at least — Kaites and Reinsdorf have become the NHL's pick.

The great Stephen Brunt, who makes grasshoppers of us all, characterizes it by saying the "subsidies (Jerry) Reinsdorf is demanding are political dynamite in a place where few are sentimentally attached to the team."

Meantime, as James Mirtle notes, Balsillie's bid still has a legal leg to stand on:
"That the judge hasn't already thrown out Balsillie's bid says to me he won't feel obliged to do so before the auction itself, although we're certainly going to hear plenty of new arguments from the league on that front. And while some of the information presented by the NHL certainly paints Balsillie in such a way that makes it easy to see why they dislike him, the fact his dealings in Pittsburgh and Nashville were aimed solely at moving a team to Hamilton will not likely 'taint' him in the eyes of the court.

"Think of it from the court's perspective: If the biggest issues surrounding Balsillie's conduct relate to his push for a franchise in his backyard, would his winning the Coyotes bidding process not solve those issues?"
Mirtle also linked to an East Valley Tribune column, "Bettman responsible for Coyotes' mess," which made it sound worse than the Montreal Expos situation a few years ago:
"This has become a disaster of Titanic proportions. The Coyotes still don’t know who their owner will be, and they may not have an answer by the Oct. 3 start of the regular season. They don’t have a TV contract. Their season-ticket base is dwindling, and sponsors are scurrying away like cockroaches when the light comes on."
No one can really say for sure how the court will decide Sept. 10, which is just five days before Bettman's overpriced orphans of winter will play their first exhibition game. It's a little funny that no one seems able to definitively answer, "What's going to happen if Balsillie wins in court?"

The great site Make It Eight argues that Bettman has a chance to set "a precedent for accomodation" if the court accepts Balsillie's bid at auction. Go ahead and say that will never happen. To hazard a guess, if Balsillie won, the NHL would insist on holding a vote . Bettman would win in a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad-esque landslide and the league would run the Coyotes and try to scare up an investor who could plunk the Coyotes some place such as as Las Vegas Kansas City, which already has an arena built by the company which owns the Los Angeles Kings. After Wednesday, though, the league's power seems less absolute, but they have wriggled off the hook before.

Why an empty rink may be better than a local rink (James Mirtle, From The Rink)

(GOSINOG: Acronym for Guilty of Stupidity, If Not Officially Guilty. O'Brien's case perhaps should have never gone to court, but the damage was enough.)

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