Friday, May 08, 2009

Is this, the last stand for The Count?

Think of it as a battle to the end between the count and the cookie Monster, with Jim Balsillie filling the role of that cookie loving monster ready to steal all of Mr. Bettman’s, er, the count’s cookies, apples or hockey franchises.

This being the third round of what seems to be an ongoing grudge match between Commissioner and billionaire; many are suggesting that when the tumbleweeds finally blow out of the desert only one will be standing…

The latest developments have Balsillie standing to the side, waiting in the wings if you will, as the NHL and the now apparently former owner of the Coyotes Jerry Moyes do battle in bankruptcy court. Mr. Moyes having made and apparently lost billions in transportation and weary of the ongoing woes tied to his hockey team is seeking to climb out from under the burden of saving hockey for the folks of Arizona.

Offering up a rather less than convincing explanation of having stumbled across the team as an accidental owner, “Honey, I own a hockey team”, he now finds that Jim Balsillies’ quest to gain a team ties in nicely with his wish to relieve himself of one.

The NHL however, or at least the NHL of Gary Bettman’s New York offices see nothing but anarchy if owners are apparently able to sell their failing franchises to willing billionaires and now are fighting the good fight for those dedicated hundreds of hockey fans in Phoenix. Lost in all the bravado over the fate of the hockey fans of Arizona, is the illusion that the NHL for most of this year has been portraying a things are fine in the desert theme, when in reality things were far from fine.

It’s a puzzling argument if you’re an owner one would think. Here we have a guy with the money to buy a franchise at far more than its worth, rescue a floundering former billionaire with at least some kind of return on his investment losses and more importantly reverse a negative with a positive outcome.

Yet the man the owners have kept in office to oversee operations sees nothing but trouble if Phoenix is allowed to relocate from a hockey wasteland to a hockey hotbed… somebody help us out with the math please…

If you are one of the owners of the more stable of franchises, Phoenix is but one of the many troubles on the financial horizon, to chase away Mr. Balsillie’s billions seems rather folly.

Lost in the battle of wills between the B boys, is the fact that Balsillie can bring much more to the game than just his wallet. His day job, other than making Gary Bettman’s life rather miserable is that of being the Blackberry king, the ubiquitous handheld communication device that has changed the world.

Content for these types of communication devices is going to be the next wave for developers, with Mr. Balsillie involved in the NHL as an owner, one has to think that the NHL would find a way to a prominent position on his handheld devices, part of the culture for the wired world.

It’s the kind of short sighted thought that has become the hallmark of the NHL, tossing ESPN aside in favour of a less than successful liaison with Verizon, losing valuable promotion on America’s largest sports network.

That was a league decision that still is causing image problems for a league that wishes to be considered part of the mainstream of American sport, yet finds itself lost in the jumble of sports offerings, left off the marquee of the largest of brands in America.

Add on the implosion of the great southern expansions to the southeast and southwest and the Bettman legacy seems to be unravelling at a rapid pace. With Mr. Balsillie offering up far above the current level of a franchise as listed by Forbes, he could boost the sale price for those other teams that are in trouble, and preserve the valuations of those that remain stable.

Instead, if the NHL is successful in their bankruptcy quest, they will apparently be left to operate the Coyotes until they can find an owner more to the liking of the Commissioner. One wonders how long they will want to pay the bills that are running up (and with precedent may be required in other locales) just to save Gary Bettman’s ego from taking a bashing...

We'll have to go back and look at some old shows from Sesame Street, we forget now, was it the Count or the Cookie Monster who eventually got all those cookies?

Globe and Mail-- Balsillie's hunt for Coyotes sets up NHL faceoff
Globe and Mail-- Bettman to challenge Coyotes bankruptcy
Globe and Mail-- Bettman's neck on line in battle with Balsillie
Globe and Mail-- Four commissioners focused on economy
Globe and Mail-- Gretzky poised to cash in on Coyotes sale
Hamilton Spectator-- Ownership key issue in court battle over Coyotes
Hamilton Spectator-- Mayor to meet with 2nd NHL suitor
Toronto Star-- Money is in Balsillie's pocket, but NHL isn't
Toronto Star-- Topic of 2nd team in Southern Ontario is not going away
Toronto Star-- Don't rush to pull plug on Coyotes' desert days
Arizona Republic-- The Count, BlackBerry Knight and Wally World
Arizona Republic-- Coyotes, NHL to battle in court
Arizona Republic-- Glendale courted top sports executive to save the Coyotes
Arizona Republic-- Coyotes may be moved to Canada
Arizona Republic-- Loss of Coyotes would hit hard
Arizona Republic-- NHL's Bettman skeptical of Balsillie's offer
National Post-- All eyes now on Bettman vs. Balsillie
National Post-- The Balsillie Bid: Why he might win, but probably won't
National Post-- Don't think Hamilton Coyotes. Think California Golden Seals
National Post-- Web support grows for bid to transplant Coyotes
National Post-- Gretzky probably wouldn't move with Coyotes
National Post-- Balsillie's quixotic hockey patriotism
National Post-- Bettman vs. Balsillie Pt. 3 likely to be a nightmare
National Post-- Balsillie a hockey lover who hates to lose

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