directory Light the Lamp - a Columbus Blue Jackets blog: The Court, the Coyotes and the Blue Jackets... Oh My

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Friday, October 2, 2009

The Court, the Coyotes and the Blue Jackets... Oh My

Before entering the dawn of a new season, it is important to mention the monumental victory the Columbus Blue Jackets have already won. . . in an Arizona courtroom.

On Wednesday, Judge Redfield T. Baum (doesn't this sound like name of a Southern judge who would love to throw the book at you) rejected the bids of the NHL and Blackberry mogul Jim Balsillie to buy the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes franchise. This effectively ends Balsillie's chances of acquiring the team, as he has decided not to appeal the decision. The NHL, who was asked to find another bidder for the franchise or to modify its own bid, now has nearly exclusive control over the destiny over the future of hockey in the Phoenix market.

On the surface, my natural instinct was disappointment. By now, it is safe to call the Phoenix expirment a bust. A new arena next to a beautiful outdoor mall and bar complex (strikingly similar to the Arena District model) was never filled with fans. The franchise itself began hemorraging money very soon after moving south from Winnipeg. Why wouldn't an NHL fan in Columbus, concerned about the product on the ice and the appearance of empty stands, want to move the franchise to a more economically viable market?

The fact is, I still do want to see the team get out of town. Whether it be to Kansas City, Hamilton, Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, London or Portland (okay, some of those cities are more likely than others), Gary Bettman needs to take his eyes off of the Scottsdale women and see that his league would bettered by getting the discrased franchise out of Glendale.

With that being said, Judge Baum should be considered a hero in Columbus.

During the leadup to his decision, Judge Baum heard various testimony as to Balsille's fitness as an owner. Without going into details, the testimony is best summed up by comments of Jeremy Jacobs, the long time Boston Bruins owner, who said that Balsille "was not willing to comply with League rules and procedures and would not be a good business partner."

Balsille blatently and brashly neglected to follow League mandated procedures in his effort to but the team. In response, the NHL Board of Governors unanimously voted to reject Balsille's efforts to buy the team. Had Judge Baum ruled in favor of Balsille, he would have essentially created a sports franchise equivlent free agency, where a potential owner could buy a team and move them as he so chose. For this reason, the NFL, MLB and NBA were all aligned with the NHL's efforts to seek the protection of their internal procedures from a renegade outsider.

Columbus, while rising in both NHL and public circles as a growing hockey market, has faced it share of economic brusings in recent years. Though this season demonstrates strong market indications of increase revenue and fiscal security (increase season ticket sales for the first time in more than five years, additional corporate sponsorships, etc.),the team's annual losses make Columbus a target for sports business analsyts who are looking to guess the next franchise on the auction block. If increasing red ink covers the franchise's books in the next five years, Columbus could end up as one of the targets that the next Balsille-like vulture would target.

But now, we fans have a safety net. While cities like Phoenix must be moved because of a lack of interest, Gary Bettman has ardently demonstrated his belief in protecting truly strong hockey markets. If you look at Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Nashville and the NY Islanders, all franchises who have entered or who have been on the cusp of financial catastrophe, Bettman has been there to block any hawk swooping in for the kill.

Columbus is growing into a strong hockey market. A gem arena, a winning product on the ice, increase fan support and interest, and a strong leadership group has made this a franchise worth protecting. Fortunately, Judge Baum has given Commissioner Bettman the bullets to do the job should a robber try to pull the team out the back door in the middle of the night.

So as we enter the '09-'10 season, sleep easier CBJ fans. The Phoenix Coyotes, a lawyer, and Gary Bettman are here to protect you...

Really, I know that sounds bad... it is better in reality than in writing.


rallen6469 said...

Great article, to this day I can't figure out how the Colts and Browns could just pack up and move but at least the NHL now has some control over it's teams.

If Phoenix had been allowed to move to Hamilton based on who has the most money instead of overall league considerations all teams would be in jeopardy.

I was thinking at one point, if Balsillie took the team to Hamilton he could be told to start his own league with one team-his. Who says the NHL has to schedule a rogue franchise.

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