Monday, May 18, 2009

For Gary Bettman, the PR troubles in Canada may grow

As the Commissioner continues his prep work for the court room drama to unfold on Tuesday, one wonders if perhaps there isn't a wee bit of deflection being provided for the hockey fans of Canada to mull over.

Facing a rather successful effort by the forces of Jim Balsillie to sell his quest for relocating the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton as a nationalist clarion call, the latest revelations from court documents suggest that if the Coyotes were to ever leave Phoenix they may be bound for Winnipeg.

It would make for a wonderful strategy of divide and conquer the Great White North, suddenly everyone west of the Sudbury city limits would be thinking, that finally Winnipeg will be rewarded for their long time lost love of the game, a chance to bring back the White Outs, to bring back the Jets...

The NHL issued a short statement on the Winnipeg idea, stating that the move back to Manitoba was only talked about in a scenario where no other bids came in for the team. The original discussion goes back to April, as documents submitted by the Jerry Moyes legal team outline, a move they say proves their point that Mr. Moyes was still operating the Coyotes despite the financial problems of the day.

The introduction of Winnipeg to the debate will certainly make for some interesting optics in Canada, as it could split that public support down the middle, the folks in Ontario up against Western Canada (with Toronto perhaps able to play the unusual role of national unity champion by siding with the Winnipeg idea).

If the whole scenario had not come out in the course of a court case and relayed by Mr. Bettman's opponents , we might suspect the NHL head office of dropping the Winnipeg plan into the mix, just to get back at Mr. Balsillie. Determined as they seem to be to keep him and apparently Hamilton out of the NHL. Bu then again, that may be too complicated a plan for the NHL to try and pull off, considering their handling of past events in recent times.

If we may be so devilish in our thoughts as to suggest to the NHL that perhaps both communities are the answers to the NHL's problems. We might hazard a guess that both Winnipeg and Hamilton would draw significantly more of a crowd to games in those cities than currently show up in Phoenix, Atlanta, Miami, Nashville, Long Island, oh need we go on....

Long term though, it may be the opening of Pandora's Box for the Commissioner, once you've publicly ruminated about relocating to Winnipeg, then surely the logic of locating in Hamilton and Quebec City will come into play.

The out of the blue mention of Winnipeg over the weekend, may reinforce for Canadian hockey fans just how out of touch the Commissioner is, refusing so far to place teams in hockey markets where at least the game will find an audience.

If he ends up alienating Canadian fans over his handling of this, he may find that the blow back towards the NHL might degrade their brand in the one secure place that the NHL still has for a base. Already it's not passing the smell test in Winnipeg where 73 percent of those responding to a poll suggest that they think it's unlikely that the NHL will move the Coyotes to Winnipeg. Readers of the Winnipeg stories will also find that Mr. Bettman's credibility is definitely not very high there these days.
Not that we suspect it is facing an upward tick anywhere above the 49th parallel either.

Winnipeg Sun-- Enough Bettman bull
Winnipeg Free Press-- 'Peg still on NHL's map

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