NHL Loses in Balsillie Verdict

I promise this is the last Phoenix Coyotes-Jim Balsillie focused blog, but with the verdict in and Balsillie’s bid rejected, I’m curious what the NHL and its owners achieved. Keeping Balsillie out was a major victory for owners across all major sports, since it maintains the cartel type control within each league, however the NHL is not one of the major sports leagues at this point.

When the NBA, NFL, and MLB each have media deals over $1B in value, and the NHL is doing revenue share with no rights fee on NBC, and allowing the network to reschedule games in favor of horse racing the league is not in the same category as the others. That said the NHL needs to move away from preserving status quo and focus on resurrecting the business, which could mean drastic changes.

A modern day businessman with a passion for hockey, like Balsillie, would bring innovation, vigor, and be willing to challenge the status quo. Without having personally met him, or knowing his full agenda, he’s they type of businessman I would want on my side if I’m the NHL – not to mention his deep pockets. He wants to move a failing team out of a dreadful hockey market, a novel concept, yet the league wants none of it. He wants to infuse capital into the team, pay for arena upgrades, and was willing to pay off ownership to an extent, but since he’s not part of the “old boy’s club” of owners, forget it.

Put the team relocation debate aside because most people agree that it makes no sense to have hockey teams in Florida, Arizona, and Tennessee, and that the NHL already has too many teams. I was curious to see Balsillie’s approach to marketing and ticket sales, given his work with building the Blackberry product, or how he’d integrate technology into the sports arena experience through mobile devices and new media. Maybe he could have concocted a new type of sports business partnership to develop new revenue for hockey teams. At the very least, he would have spent money to build a competitive team with first-rate facilities, and created a positive fan experience, and that’s something this league desperately needs more of.

Balsillie has reserved himself to the fact that he will never own a hockey team – at least for now. Meanwhile, the NHL is stuck with a franchise that dragged through the mud this off-season and sold few, if any tickets this offseason, thus the league will need to subsidize it again. Further, it faces a labor dispute, media problems (Versus-DirecTV dispute), turmoil within the NHLPA, and weak ticket sales in perennially good hockey markets, yet the league has made changes to counteract or mitigate these issues. No matter where you rank hockey on the American sports landscape, its falling fast.

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