The Jim Balsillie people are portraying the decision that denied them the chance to purchase and relocate the Phoenix Coyotes as an indication of bad timing and an encouragement of further discussion with the NHL.
They're not wrong, necessarily. Their haste, and the judge's opinion that the NHL shouldn't work on Balsillie's timeline, contributed to their legal defeat. It's also clear that some groundwork has been laid -- regarding control of the franchise, appeasement of creditors and relocation fees -- for further mediation between the two sides.
But the NHL doesn't have to pursue it. The League won this round with Balsillie.
I was speaking to someone inside the Balsillie camp today that agreed with one basic result of this hostile takeover: That his popularity and the support for a seventh team in Canada have never been higher in recent memory.
Sure, Hamilton residents are getting jaded by these constant near-misses. But the difference between Balsillie's bid for the Nashville Predators and his bid for Phoenix is that this was less about acquiring a particular franchise for a particular city and more about grassroots politics.
The Web site wasn't BringTheCoyotesToHamilton.com (still available, by the way); it was MakeItSeven.ca, a battle cry for Canadian fans to support his insurgency.
Balsillie had an editorial in The Province today reaffirming his intentions to relocate the Coyotes, but also to reaffirm his commitment to the movement he started:
Since Canadians demonstrated this huge groundswell of support in recent weeks, the NHL has said it now believes Southern Ontario is a good hockey market and can support another NHL franchise.
For that turnaround I give full credit to Canadian hockey fans. It has been a true grassroots movement by the fans from coast to coast, opening the door to another NHL team in Canada.
I truly believe that, ultimately, it will be the fans who influence the outcome here. I will meet the NHL's technical requirements. But we couldn't do this without the fans. They are making the impossible become possible.
One of the interesting nuggets from the judge's ruling was the notion that Balsillie has already been approved as an owner by the NHL three years ago; a notion that Costas from Population Statistic disagreed with over email today:
"Can't say I agree much on your assessment of Balsillie. Just because they approved him as ownership-worthy 3 years ago doesn't bind the league to approve him now, in light of everything since. (They've approved plenty of scoundrels in the past -- remember John Spano? -- doesn't mean they'll keep them in the club)."
You'll get no argument from us that the NHL has a habit of rubber-stamping crooks and liars as owner brethren. But the judge himself said the NHL would have to show some change in Balsillie's circumstances since 2006 that would disapprove his validity as an owner; far as we can tell, he's just gotten richer and more anxious for a team.
If nothing else, the last several weeks have shown that Balsillie is an overly enthusiastic billionaire who will take extreme measures to own a team in the Southern Ontario market. It would behoove the NHL to fast-track some sort of expansion -- not easy in this economy, of course -- lest they want Jimmy Vulture circling around any number of other teams with ownership turmoil or arena headaches or general lack of local support in their current markets.
He's not going away. He's got more political and public support behind him now than ever before. The best case scenario for the NHL is to have him buy in at its asking price. Because even though he isn't going to own the Phoenix Coyotes (unless there's a doomsday scenario for the NHL), he's going to own an NHL franchise at some point.
One last bit of interest from the Coyotes' side of things: Fanster has a list of way for the franchise to find its footing in the region financially and with fans. From Fanster:
Tickets/Packages: The team needs to get creative in how to attract the attention of the none conventional hockey fans that fill this market and regain the attention of East Valley hockey fans. Special "East Valley" ticket promotions would be a big selling point. Offering the East Valley pack that includes opening night and every Friday/Saturday game plus a $300 gas card (possibly provided by a marketing partnership with a local gas station) would help negate the "it costs too much to drive from (fill in East Valley city) to Glendale" argument and the argument that it's just too tough to go out to Glendale during the work week for those fans.
Selling general admission tickets to week day game would help to attract new fans and bring back old ones. For $30 bucks fans could choose any seat in the lower bowl. First come, first serve. That could give the most rabid Coyotes fans a chance to sit on the glass and make for an interesting atmosphere in Jobing.com arena.
Also on the list and quite obvious: Winning.