Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Why Does Basillie Need More Canadian Government Financial Assistance? Why Does Basillie Need More Canadian Government Financial Assistance?

By Evan Weiner

May 13, 2009

9:45 PM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) – I am not a big fan of the Toronto sports media scene, whether I read about Toronto sports, I see local sportswriters break out their blue and white pom poms and write like fans who can put together a sentence. Now that Jim Basillie has put in a bid to buy the Glendale, Arizona-based Phoenix Coyotes, those same writers have put on their red and white Team Canada jerseys and have adopted an us against them, Southern Ontario versus the desert mentality with the hope that their knight in shining armor, Basillie moves the franchise to nearby Hamilton.

(A point of fact, a good many Canadian hockey writers seem to wave pom poms for their local teams, whether it is in Ottawa or Edmonton or other Canadian cities. But then again, as the New York Times columnist George Vescey pointed out to me many years ago, sportswriters are apologists. Sportswriters also have rooting interests.)

It would be refreshing to see the Toronto sports media take off the red and white uniforms and ask a very serious question about their savior of Canadian hockey, Basillie, It would be a very complex question that would require a bit of research, not much though, but here it goes. How much money did the Canadian government throw Basillie and Research in Motion’s way in the mid and late 1990s to help develop BlackBerry and how much of that government aid for research help make Basillie super rich. The second part of the question is why does Basillie need Hamilton and Ontario public money to refurbish the Hamilton arena to meet NHL standards, after all he became very rich because of the Canadian government’s help in funding the research for BlackBerry. Shouldn’t Basillie reach into his own pocket and give back to Canada if his goal is to own a Canadian based hockey team or is Basillie just another corporate welfare recipient?

That might be a tough question that is sure to get Basillie’s public relations people very upset but it is a fair question. Reporters should ask difficult questions not throw softballs to major league hitters in all areas not just hockey. Public relations people should not be setting agendas nor should reporters be afraid to ask a complex series of questions.

Basillie on the surface really isn’t any different than any other potential owner. If he can get a municipality to put up money, then why should he not accept funding?

Instead of that question being asked, there is the NHL owes Hamilton a franchise because one time New Jersey Devils owner John McMullen in the mid 1980s, dissatisfied with East Rutherford, New Jersey and paying off the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers for invading the three teams territory and playing off Colorado Rockies owner Peter Gilbert after buying the financially ailing Denver-based team, kicked the tires and looked at Hamilton as a potential place to put his hockey team or how the NHL passed over Hamilton in the early 1990s and gave an expansion team to Ottawa instead of how Hamilton was fleeced back in 1925 when a New York bootlegger Bill Dyer purchased the Hamilton Tigers and moved the team to New York. The New York Americans franchise came before the New York Rangers and played in Madison Square Garden. The Garden owners liked how the hockey team was received in New York and decided to own their own team, the Rangers, and a year later Dyer’s franchise played second fiddle to the Rangers. The franchise was suspended in 1942 because of World War II and never reactivated.

Hamilton built an arena that was up to 1970s standards that was opened in 1985. The Copps Coliseum wasn’t designed with the future in mind and lacks a sufficient number of luxury boxes. The arena would need about $180 million in renovations to bring it up to 21st century state of the art NHL standards. Basillie isn’t willing to put up that kind of money and that should run Canadians the wrong way although Basillie has proven he has learned his lessons over the years and knows how to make demands. Basillie reportedly wants $150 million from Hamilton and Ontario coffers.

Basillie has never been much for public relations. Ontario has been hard hot by the recession with 11,000 lost jobs in March and 171,000 jobs between October and the end of March. Ontario will be hard hit by the possible liquidation of Chrysler and the pending June 1 General Motors bankruptcy. It is not a good climate to be asking for a government handout even if it is for an NHL franchise.

Hockey may be a way of life in Canada but in the overall economic scheme, hockey is does not provide an economic stimulus and while Hamilton is thought to be a potential goldmine for an owner, non-hockey fans should not be helping Basille’s bottom line. Canadians have given Basillie enough; they helped in part in the development of BlackBerry. Balsillie should build his own place; he has the money in part because the Canadian government has been so good to him.

Why Balsillie needs another handout is a question that Basillie needs to answer and hopefully someone in the Toronto media area will not act like a hockey fan dying for a seventh Canadian franchise and ask Basillie about the need to live off the public dole for a Hamilton hockey team.

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