Thursday, May 7, 2009

Hockey’s Real Playoffs is Taking Place in Phoenix’s Real Playoffs is Taking Place in Phoenix

May 7, 2009

10:45 PM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) -- If it a safe bet that Jerry Moyes will never own another major league sports team whether it is in baseball, football, basketball, soccer and especially the National Hockey League. It is also a safe bet that Jim Basillie will never be welcomed into the sports lodge either. In case you haven't been following the plight of the Phoenix Coyotes, Moyes and Basillie have set the table for what would be a landmark battle that could alter how the NHL, NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer choose owners and cities for their franchises.

The NHL has been bankrolling the cash strapped Moyes-owned Phoenix Coyotes throughout the 2008-09 season and apparently all hell broke loose on Tuesday when the NHL was attempting to broker a deal to sell Moyes' Coyotes to Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf for considerably less money than Basillie is ready to give Moyes for the franchise, Moyes decided to declare bankruptcy.

Balsillie would move the team to the Toronto area, most likely Hamilton. The NHL doesn't want to give up on Phoenix which might be a good franchise eventually after the recession is done and the number of foreclosures in the area levels off.

Moyes and Basillie are not only crossing NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and 29 NHL owners but Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association. You see Reinsdorf is a major force in Major League Baseball and pulled strings to get the 1992 Democratic Presidential Convention into his newly built arena in Chicago. Reinsdorf's partner in the Chicago building was Chicago Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz.

To illustrate just how powerful Reinsdorf is, he is not only partners with Rocky Wirtz, the Blackhawks new owner but also with Sam Zell, the Tribune Company owner who owns the Chicago Cubs in the market's regional cable TV network. Zell was one of Reinsdorf's White Sox minority owners before buying the Tribune Company in April 2007.

Reinsdorf's White Sox hold spring training in Glendale, Arizona, the city that happens to have built the arena that Moyes' team calls home. Moyes negotiated a terrible deal to play there but Reinsdorf and Glendale apparently were ready to renegotiate that deal. The NHL has been actively seeking a new owner over the past year for the franchise.

Reinsdorf is powerful. It is thought that Reinsdorf was the major force during the 1994-94 baseball strike and that Reinsdorf installed Bud Selig as acting baseball commissioner after Fay Vincent was dumped as the commissioner.

The leagues are powerful and as NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle testified in the 1986 United States Football League and National Football League antitrust trial in federal court in New York City that leagues are natural monopolies and as such leagues have the right to choose who they want as an owner and who they don't want.

Basillie is someone who they don't want. He backed out of buying the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006 when that franchise was in financial trouble and tried to buy the Nashville Predators and immediately started selling season tickets for the Hamilton Predators for the 2008-2009 Hamilton (Ontario) Predators. Balsillie's Hamilton season ticket sale campaign was a stupid tactic possibly the dumbest thing a potential owner of a franchise has done to impress the ownership lodge. Basillie may be a technical genius in helping to develop BlackBerry but he certainly doesn't have the people skills that will endear him to sports barons. Being smart in the backroom doesn't impressed sports owners very much. Balsillie has not made a favorable impression on Gary Bettman or his owners.

There is no way that Basillie will ever get into the lodge if he tries to bully his way into owning an NHL team. There is an orderly process in wooing sports owners when a team becomes available. Basillie has an unfavorable track record. Being part of a court process will not endear himself to the sports ownership community.

Moyes has now drawn the wrath of NHL owners by declaring bankruptcy on Tuesday and having Basillie move right in with a $212.5 million offer. It is now in a bankruptcy court. The question now becomes will a bankruptcy court trump NHL ownership requirement rules? That becomes a problem and a major problem if the NHL can prove that they removed Moyes as the Coyotes owner before Moyes declared bankruptcy.

Major League Baseball owners have in the past blocked potential owners from buying teams like the San Francisco Giants, the Texas Rangers and the Minnesota Twins and moving the team to St. Petersburg, Florida. Charles Finley was not allow to sell his Oakland A's to Marvin Davis who would have relocated the team to Denver in the late 1970s. The San Francisco Giants franchise is still in San Francisco even though the club was sold to Toronto interests in the mid 1970s. Major League Baseball blocked that potential move as well. Baseball also blocked a proposed sale of the San Diego Padres in the winter of 1973 which would have put the franchise in Washington, D. C.

The NBA denied boxing promoter Bob Arum and his partners the chance to buy the Minnesota TimberWolves in the summer of 1994 because Arum wanted to move the team to New Orleans. Eventually NBA Commissioner David Stern found a local buyer and the team stayed in Minneapolis.

The NHL can argue that the league knows better than a bankruptcy how to run the business of hockey and the league has the right to allow who they want in their fraternity.

The NFL tried to stop Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis from moving his franchise to Los Angeles in the early 1980s and could not because the league's relocation rules were too vague and Davis moved the team. The NBA could not stop Donald Sterling from leaving San Diego and moving his Clippers franchise to Los Angeles in the mid 1980s. The NBA sues Sterling, Sterling did move his team and they settled. Davis and Sterling were owners in the leagues.

The business of sports is going to be unveiled in a trail in Phoenix. Balsillie could prevail in bankruptcy court but that doesn't mean the NHL will accept the verdict and that could open up another legal front which will definitely bring in Reinsdorf's fellow MLB and NBA owners, Bettman's fellow commissioners like the NBA's Stern, MLB's Bud Selig, the NFL's Roger Goodell and the MLS' Don Garber. Balsillie might not care that he could open up the entire sports league operations process but that is what he faces and even though all of the owners probably use BlackBerry, these captains of industry can make Balsillie's life miserable as a sports owner.

This battle is not about the viability of the Phoenix market or placing a second team in the Toronto area which Balsillie plans to do if he gets the franchise, this battle will be about NHL bylaws and whether the NHL has the right to choose who should own a franchise in the league.

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