Gary Bettman Needs To Get a Blackberry

Joe MacDonaldAnalyst IMay 6, 2009

DALLAS - JANUARY 23:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the press after meeting with the Board of Governors at the Renaissance Dallas Hotel on January 23, 2007 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

I'm not sure what type of smart phones the National Hockey League executives are using these days, but I think the time has come for Commissioner Gary Bettman to trade his in for a new Blackberry.

Bettman's arch-enemy Research-in-Motion founder and CEO Jim Balsillie has made an offer for the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes.  The offer is a substantial $212.5 million, and there's no doubt that the RIM head honcho has the cash.

The condition to the offer, of course, is that Balsillie wants to move the team to southern Ontario, a move that makes sense to virtually everyone except those who work in the commissioner's office.

Although they haven't said so in so many words, the NHL's initial reaction, or at least the tone of the press releases, makes it clear that the league intends to do whatever it has to do to keep the technology billionaire out of their exclusive club.

Shame on a guy who actually has the money and a proven hockey market for wanting an NHL franchise when there are plenty of southern U.S. cities and dubious investors still out there that the league can attract.

Without a doubt, Balsillie could use a course in how to make friends and influence people.  He is brash, aggressive, and expects to get what he wants if he wants it badly enough—not exactly qualities that are endearing to the National Hockey League Board of Governors. 

But those same traits are what make him a successful businessman, and that's definitely what the NHL needs in this time of economic turmoil. 

So maybe it's time for Bettman and his followers to give in to the inevitable and allow Balsillie to bring the floundering Coyotes to Hamilton, Kitchener, or wherever he has in mind.  Hockey's never going to work in Phoenix and even the league concedes that there is a large enough hockey market in southern Ontario for two NHL teams.

More generally, it's time to give up on this dream of competing with baseball, football, and basketball for national supremacy in the United States. Bettman and his cronies must acknowledge the regional nature of the hockey market and do everything that the league can do to maximize the fanbase and revenue opportunities in those markets.

It's actually a potential personal win for the commissioner. Canadian hockey fans will be appreciative, the league will be stronger, and maybe we can even throw a couple of free Blackberries into the deal.

How sweet would that be?