The most popular billionaire in North America this month could very well be Jim Balsillie, the owner of the Blackberry brand and would be NHL owner if only Mr. Bettman would let him join the league of extraordinary hockey club owners.
The National Post yesterday revealed that Mr. Balsillie or his representatives have contacted or been contacted by no less than eight NHL franchisees seeking out his interest in picking up a whole or a piece of an NHL franchise.
It’s been a replay of the last couple of years which have seen the Southern Ontario based computer guru entertain possibilities of picking up the Pittsburgh Penguins (ultimately that plan feel through) or the Nashville Predators (that one seemed to have been pulled out from under him), the ultimate plan from him it seemed was a relocation to either Hamilton or Kitchener, Ontario, a U-Haul destination that seemed to cause no shortage of terror at the NHL offices.
With a report leaked last week that the six Canadian franchises are accounting for at least 31 per cent of all league revenues, one has to wonder just what it is that scares Mr. Bettman and his head office minions so much about more hockey where more people might watch it.
Yet every indication seems to be that Mr. Balsillie’s bucks aren’t particularly welcome if he plans on moving moribund franchises to where they may find profit, fans and interest. Success it seems isn’t always in the best interests of the NHL at least that is the impression one seems to divine from the attitude of the league when it comes to Mr. Balsillie’s interest.
Today, the Post follows up on the eight potential ship jumpers to one with more than hockey on his mind. Nashville Predators minority owner Boots Del Biaggio, the Predators suitor that beat out Balsillie last year for the stake in the Preds has found himself in legal trouble.
Fraud seems to be the poison of the moment, as Mr. Del Biaggio who is now faced with at least four separate files to worry about, including a potential legal separation from his wife, finds himself destined to spend much more time in a court room than in an NHL boardroom. Making for a turn of events that could bring the Predators back into a most precarious position.
Yet, it seems that still Balsillie is just a dirty word at the bunkers of the NHL, the Post reports in their story today that negotiations between Balsillie and Del Biaggio were shut down after Mr. Del Biaggio had another apparent change of heart regarding his potential business partner.
The on again off again nature of those negotiations have left the Balsillie camp just a little frustrated with his legal advisor Richard Rodier telling TSN yesterday that "The commissioner made it very clear he does not want Jim in the league under any circumstances.period"
That comment of course led the NHL to be quick to respond to and provide their own spin on the latest developments, denying that any anti Balsillie sentiments can be found in corridors of the NHL head office.
What’s curious and certainly something that should be of interest to all but the ten or so teams that are more than content with their ownership situations, is why Mr. Balsillie is receiving such input from almost one third of the teams in the league if the empire is secure and strong at the moment. Clearly the state of the NHL is not quite as strong and secure as Mr. Bettman seems to present.
Perhaps instead of phoning/faxing and instant messaging Mr. Balsillie with interests to sell, those anxious owners looking for an exit strategy should instead be contacting Mr. Bettman and telling him to let a free market reign. Those hockey teams in the most dire straits should be able to gravitate to where there is a market and somebody willing to own and operate a team in a successful fashion.
Now that might be a business plan worth bringing to a Board of Governors meeting...
National Post-- NHL teams courting RIM's Balsillie
National Post-- Balsillie spurned in new bid for Predators
National Post-- U. S. authorities investigating Predators' owner over loans
Globe and Mail-- More trouble for Del Biaggio
Globe and Mail-- NHL has many hotspots to douse
Toronto Star-- Owners' legal problems a headache for Bettman
Hamilton Spectator-- Don't count Balsillie out
The Tennessean-- Investor's ties with Predators may be cut
Nashville Scene-- Predatory lending
Nashville Post-- Preds owner under federal investigation