Tag Archives: Jim Balsillie

Balsillie Makes Owners’ Blackberries Shrivel

By Jason Menard

It doesn’t take much for the money men who run the National Hockey League to get their backs up. So it comes as no surprise that when someone shakes them up as much as Research in Motion co-founder Jim Balsillie has recently, they’re going to stiffen up as if someone spiked the owner’s meeting water supply with Viagra.

If the rumours reported earlier today in a Canadian Press report, it appears that Balsillie will come away empty in his second attempt to purchase an NHL franchise. The latest scuttlebutt suggests that Nashville Predators’ owner Craig Leopold will be entertaining a less-lucrative $190 million US offer from William DelBaggio, a California businessman.

For the Predators to take less money from another suitor than was Balsillie offered must make the Canadian franchise-owner-in-waiting feel as if he’s been kicked in the, well, Blackberries. At the very least, he has to feel that this is a personal rejection.

Even though the Predators are rushing to embrace the California-based DelBaggio, one can easily speculate as to what the man they call Boots’ true intentions are. After all, DelBaggio has made no secret of his desire to bring an NHL franchise to Kansas City. Thanks to Balsillie’s aggressive moves earlier this month, we’re well aware of the opportunities that exist to break the Predators’ lease and move the franchise out of Nashville.

The difference between Balsillie and DelBaggio, other than a passport? Transparency. DelBaggio says and does the right things; Balsillie rattles cages and goes his own way. And it’s apparent that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman doesn’t want any mavericks on his watch – that is, unless Mark Cuban wants to pony up for a franchise.

So the Preds’ owner is willing to take a $48 million dollar bath – which represents the difference between Balsillie’s original offer and what’s being reported as the sale price to DelBaggio – then the NHL places quite the premium on conformity.

And that’s why the NHL is doomed to stagnate under its current watch. Hopefully Balsillie will find that the third time in acquiring a franchise truly is the charm – but first the NHL better hope and pray that there is a third time.

Yes, Balsillie was less-than-tactful in his bold efforts to extricate the Predators from the land where country music reigns supreme. But in the end, what exactly did he do? All he showed was that he was able to obtain financial guarantees from people about a product that had yet to be secured. He showed that there was a viable and potentially sustainable third Ontario market ripe for exploitation. And he showed that he was willing to overpay for the right to obtain an NHL franchise.

From the moment he was willing to shell out a whopping $238 million for the moribund Predators’ franchise, he showed that he was the type of owner that the NHL should be falling all over themselves to accommodate. And let’s not forget the extra millions he also was willing to pour into the facilities in Hamilton to bring them up to NHL standard.

With that evidence behind him, would there be any doubt that he’d be an aggressive owner consistently willing to pay to put out a quality product for his fans? I think not.

Say what you want about the aforementioned Cuban, but he’s a fan first who is willing to take care of his fellow fans. He spends money on things that don’t bring an immediate return on investment, but pay off huge dividends long-term. Cuban has made going to Mavericks games an event. He has shelled out copious amounts of money to ensure both his paying public and his paid staff – the players – have the best in all available amenities. And he’s spent money to keep his roster consistently amongst the upper echelon of NBA teams.

Balsillie seems to be cut from the same cloth, so tell me exactly why the NHL wouldn’t want him amongst its ownership group?

No, it’s much better to stay conservative, sell a troubled franchise to an owner who will probably move the club to another unproven marketplace within five years, and waste 10 more years in markets that are just not sustainable long-term.

Ironically, the addition of an owner who would have taken an American club and moved it north of the 49 th would, in the long run, do more for growing the sport south of the border than can ever be served by keeping the Predators in the land of the free. The energy, creativity, and fresh approach that Balsillie would bring to the ownership group, couldn’t help but move forward that seemingly lost cause.

No one wants to use the “E” word, but the NHL needs Jim Balsillie more than he needs it. He wants a club, he’s a fan, and he has very, very deep pockets – and that’s exactly the type of owner the NHL needs. So if the league is adamant about keeping all its franchise where they are, they should look at the only other way to bring in a bright, enthusiastic, and forward-thinking owner – by granting him an expansion franchise.

It’s time for the NHL to be a little more flexible. After all, when something’s too rigid, it’s far easier to break.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Canadian Hockey Vultures Forgot Their Pain

By Jason Menard

Canuck puck-heads need to take a deep breath. After all, circling like vultures isn’t an endearing character trait – especially when the prey is far from dead.

The announcement that Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie has taken the first steps in purchasing the Nashville Predators has sent numerous Canadian hockey fans into apoplectic fits of joy. Already the debates have started: Hamilton or Kitchener/Waterloo? How soon? Where will they play? Copps Coliseum or a yet-to-be-build hockey palace in the K/W region?

The only problem with that scenario? The Predators are still in Nashville and could be for the foreseeable future.

There are a number of contractual obligations that can continue to bind the Preds to the city of Nashville. The much-ballyhooed out clause that could see the club pack up and move after next season can be negated by the current ownership executing a cure clause in the contract that would compel the city to ensure an average paid attendance of 14,000. That’s hardly an overwhelming burden for the city since the club averaged 13,815 spectators last season.

But therein lies the rub. The Predators have some of the lowest ticket prices in the league and had one of the best clubs during the regular season. With all those factors going for them they were only able to draw less than 14,000 fans. What’s to be expected from the fans who may, rightly or wrongly, feel that the club’s on its way out the door sooner or later? If fans won’t support a winner, how will they react to a franchise that is widely believed to be looking for greener pastures?

Or maybe, just maybe, Balsillie will play the role of responsible owner, cultivate a fan base, and invest in drawing local fans to the rink. After all, he’s a business man, and it’s only good business to see your investment pay off. With an established arena, a small-but-dedicated pocket of fans, and a general lack of competition on the professional sports landscape (the NFL’s Tennessee Titans the noted exception), Balsillie is further ahead than where he would be moving this franchise to Canada.

Unfortunately, Canadian hockey fans have infused their desires into their perceptions of Balsillie’s actions. Many Canadians want Balsillie to bring a franchise north of the border. Many Canadians want hockey to fail in the Sun Belt. And many Canadians want to hearken back to a better time.

Too many hockey fans are stuck in the past and are now engaging in a disgusting display ofschadenfreude. They want hockey to fail – no matter how that will impact fans south of the border.

They forget the pain they, themselves may have experienced. The anger over the loss of franchises in Winnipeg and Quebec City is still felt today and colours their perception of the league. Yet the contradiction here is that the very action that they despised over a decade ago – taking a franchise away from a small, but dedicated hockey fan base – is the very same strategy they’re firmly behind today.

Sure, Nashville may not have the tradition and societal attachment that cities north of the border may have for hockey, but that’s no reason to hope for something to fail. After all, this is our game and what greater pride can we have in it than to see it succeed in non-traditional markets?

We all would love to see NHL hockey returned to places like Winnipeg, Quebec City, and Hamilton (interestingly enough the NHL’s Hamilton Tigers, which ceased to exist in 1925, came into existence as a transfer of the Quebec [City] Bulldogs), but we shouldn’t be frothing at the mouth to wrest the franchises away from areas that we deem unworthy. We Canadians love to get indignant when told that cities like Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver are small markets unworthy of NFL, or in some cases NBA or MLB franchises, but we seemingly have no problem being supercilious and looking down at southern regions unworthy of our beloved sport.

Let’s hope that Balsillie makes a go of it in Nashville and the sport enjoys unprecedented success. Personally, I’d rather see my beloved sport recognized world-wide for its greatness – and that means seeing it succeed south of the 49 th, instead of jealously guarding my game in my own backyard.

If after a couple of years of solid effort, the fans and business interests in Nashville continue to reject the Predators, then by all means Balsillie should be free to move the club wherever he likes. But while Hamilton, Kitchener/Waterloo, Quebec City, and Winnipeg are all out there as options so too are Las Vegas, Portland, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Kansas City.

We all want more hockey back in Canada, but hovering over a franchise that’s not even in its death throes is a little unseemly. Maybe Canadians should remember the pain that losing their franchises caused before they’re so eager to inflict that same trauma on someone else, just because we deem them unworthy.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved