Personal Hijack


    The interview between league Commissioner, Gary Bettman, on Toronto radio station, FAN590 segment “The Game Plan” featuring Doug Maclean and Jack Armstrong, was a first hand look at the battle the relocation to Hamilton has become. Stating that after Jim Balsillie’s attempts at hijacking the Nashville Predators to Hamilton, the commish indicated he sat down with the billionaire outlining what it would take to become an NHL owner.

    An interesting interview, indeed, however, the follow up with Balsillie’s spokesperson Bill Walker in the Prime Time Sports segment with Bob McCown was a little more revealing.

    “The one thing he really, really wants the most is to be an NHL owner, and NHL owner of a team in Southern Ontario. I think that’s been clear to everyone.”

    Bill Walker, Jim Balsillie spokesperson

    He then alludes that if there was another way to fulfill that dream – as Bettman asserted – he would have proceeded in that fashion.

    “At the end of the day, the only thing that matters to him is the fulfillment of that dream,” said Walker.

    Walker’s two points: 1) Balsillie wanted to become an NHL owner, and 2) ownership is contingent on relocation to his only viable destination, Hamilton/Southern Ontario.

    McCown was quick to point out how these two desires as independent of each other, and how they aren’t in line with 99% of other owners. He could have fulfilled his dream of NHL ownership with the first attempt to purchase the Penguins, and then again with a proposed buy-in to the Predators. The fact his desire to own a team is married to the notion of bringing a second team to Southern Ontario is frankly, full of affluent pomposity. He wants this, because of his stature, not for best intentions of the game.

    I don’t have an issue about another team in the Southern Ontario market (it would be perfectly fine with me), but the fact a billionaire throwing around proposals to justify his own personal agenda doesn’t sit well; it likely doesn’t rub other NHL owners in a positive way. How does a franchise in Hamilton – on all accounts, likely to be a remarkable success – help the NHL in general? How does it help struggling franchises in other markets? What do owners of the Lightning, Panthers, Carolina, and Dallas benefit?

    Furthering this debacle is timing.

    The story broke on May 6, 2009, with the NHL preparing for Game 3 of an amazing series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals. Sid vs. AO.

    News of the offer stole the spotlight of what should have been a marketer’s dream match up between the games premiere players. The fiasco involved courts, and a billionaire hijacking an existing franchise on the premise that affluence and opportunity afforded him the ‘right’ to purchase a club and move it anywhere he damned near pleased.

    At a time where attendance and economical issues forecast doom and gloom in the NHL, a premiere series to put the NHL’s youngest stars on display, to try to help the game grow, to try enticing new fans, the headlines were hijacked in an attempt to throw a franchise into an “underserved market.”

    How do you think that played over in the individual offices of 29 other NHL owners?

    Another Canadian franchise isn’t the issue here … higher revenue isn’t the issue … a rogue, renegade maverick wishing to fulfill his own personal desire to own an NHL team on the condition that it’s relocated to the area of his personal choice, just because he finds himself in the position of affluence isn’t a good way to begin business relationships. Spouting his own brand of propaganda, using the phrase “unserved hockey market.” This phrase, too, evolved from the initial “underserved hockey market” when this entire issue broke out.

    Macaluso headed up several attempts to bring an NHL team to Hamilton while serving as CEO of Copps Coliseum from 1989 to 2005

    Toronto Sun, June 2, 2009 .. Gabe Malacuso

    The article by Macaluso highlights an interesting point to what a franchise is worth in the market (a lot more than the $212 million offer for the Coyotes), and the blatant disregard of the Maple Leafs and Sabres jurisdiction.

    “If Hamilton wants a team you best come down the aisle with Toronto on one arm and Buffalo on the other,” wrote Macaluso.

    In the end, NHL owners may have the final say about entrance into the NHL’s boys club. Does the fact he’s a billionaire resonate with other owners? Does it help them in their individual markets?

    Pulling on the heartstrings of Canadians with websites to prove interest from the Canadian public (how about revealing IP addresses of those signing petition available from a geographical region, to verify which signers would form the ticket buying public). Innuendo about unserved markets and personal desires don’t serve the hockey world.

    I don’t doubt one day, Hamilton/Southern Ontario, possibly another NHL team in Toronto, will one day happen. Doesn’t make any difference to me. But this entire scenario is played.

    The commissioner and billionaire can proclaim discount of the situation as personal. In the end, it’s all about personal agendas.