Thursday, May 7, 2009

Coyote Ugly

Earlier this week the Phoenix Coyotes filed for bankruptcy.  The team has been hemorrhaging money since they moved to Phoenix from Winnipeg over ten years ago and it seems the bottom has finally fallen out.

Comissioner, and all around idiot, Gary Bettman was in Phoenix today trying to find a new buyer for the team that isn't named Jim Balsillie.  Balsillie, who is the CEO of RIM, offered $212.5 million for the Coyotes on the condition that he can relocate the team to Southern Ontario.  He is apparently competing against Jerry Reinsdorf who owns the Chicago White Sox and wants to keep the team in Glendale.  The problem? Reinsdorf's offer is nowhere near Balsillie's.

Balsillie has tried to buy and NHL team before as last year he tried to buy the Nashville Predators but was rebuffed by Bettman and the NHL who refused him on the grounds that they did not want any teams to relocate.

My question from all of this: why the hell won't they sell to Balsillie?

The NHL is by far the weakest league out of the major four (NFL, MLB, and NBA being the other three) and is constantly losing money and struggling to keep viewers interested.  The league seems to have made it their charge to ensure that Americans love hockey and that it does not become a Canadian sport.  Yet by making this their mission they have guaranteed that they will continue to lose money trying to pander to people who are uninterested.

It makes absolutely no sense to me why the NHL would do this as clearly it is not working and it ignores the fact that the NHL does its best business in Canada.  I really think that having another team in Southern Ontario would only bring more fans out and would create rivalries between this new team and the Leafs or Senators which would increase interest in the league as well.

Yet for some reason Bettman has denied Balsillie and does not seem to be budging on his decision.  Bettman is concerned that Balsillie is trying to take control from the league and use his money to get his will.  This to me makes some sense as the NHL needs to show that it will not be bullied by a man with a tonne of money.  That being said in these economic times can the league really afford to let an offer of this magnitude slip through their fingers?

"This is more about the tactic and I think a challenge to league rules than it is about economic condition of the club, which we believe can with new ownership and with the accommodations the city of Glendale is prepared to make, we think can succeed," Bettman said.

I understand that Bettman is trying to protect the integrity of the league but in the end he needs to do what is best financially.  The NHL needs to realise that Phoenix is not a hockey city and that the idea of someone who walks around in 100 degree weather having to put on pants and a sweater to go watch a game they have never played before isn't appealing.  Of all the things there are to do in Phoenix why would anyone pay good money to go watch a failing product.

"We generally try to avoid relocating franchises unless you absolutely have to," Bettman said. "We think when a franchise is in trouble, you try and fix the problems. That's what we did in Pittsburgh and Ottawa and Buffalo prior to our work stoppage. That's what we did when the perception was that five out of the six Canadian franchises around the turn of the century were in trouble. We fixed the problems. We don't run out on cities."

As much as I hate poker references I think it is time that Bettman and the NHL realise that in the Phoenix Coyotes they have a losing hand.  Just fold and walk away.

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