Phoenix Rising: The Truth About What's at Stake

Kevin - NHLFarmteams.comContributor IAugust 13, 2009

MONTREAL - JUNE 26:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman shakes hands with Oliver Ekman-Larsson after he was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes during the first round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft at the Bell Centre on June 26, 2009 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

 It’s ironic that the predicament the NHL—and all major league sports for that matter—finds itself in is unfolding in Phoenix.

 The Phoenix is a mythical bird that has a long life span. At the end of which it builds a nest of myrrh twigs, ignites itself, burns to ashes, and then is reborn or rises again.  

 I think one of the major motivators that most people miss when analyzing the situation is the cash cow that is public financing. The majority of the new facilities that have been built by the "fair weather" hockey franchises have come (at least partially, and in many cases totally) at the expense of taxpayers.

 Without this money expansion of the NHL is not viable, and may even be impossible given the quality of some of the current ownership groups.

 Bettman alluded to this in 2008 when addressing the Edmonton chamber of commerce. He essentially said that the Oilers "needed" a new facility to remain viable. He went on to say that he could not see how the project could be completed without public funding.

 He again alluded to the fact that Canadian cities are reticent to spend public funds to support billionaires in his interview with Ron McLean on HNIC. After commenting that poor Bryden had to build his own exit ramp, he went so far as to say that Quebec and Winnipeg may have lost their franchises because the public was not willing to finance new buildings.

 So how would it look if Gary and his band of blithering idiots watched a franchise disappear after taxpayers had funded a new mausoleum?

 It's no wonder the NFL, NBA and MLB are all so worried.

 It has less to do with moving a franchise from Phoenix to Hamilton, or the dissolution/circumventing of inadequate bylaws, and more to do with a critical multi-billion dollar revenue stream that just may dry up if Balsillie is successful.
 The erosion of markets in Buffalo and Toronto is a red herring, meant to gain sympathy for the poor struggling billionaires. In Canada there is plenty of room for another team and they will have rabid fans like anywhere else.

 No self-respecting fan in TO or Buffalo is going to switch allegiance. They are solid markets.
 The character assassination conducted by the NHL and the owners is simply laughable. Bylaws can be changed to avoid a similar debacle in the future.

 In the end, this is personal.

 If Balsillie wins, it’s the end of an era when greedy billionaire’s build their sports franchise fortunes on the back of taxpayers. That is Stern’s vision in the NBA (sorry Seattle, no new stadium…we’re moving to Oklahoma) and it is Bettman’s in the NHL.

 Neither MLB or the NFL have anything to worry about except the loss of public billions to build their shiny new stadiums—and that’s the only reason they care.

 Gary is in the fight of his life. He sold the owners a “bill of goods” that he may no longer be able to deliver. So it’s personal alright, but Balsillie was simply the catalyst to a broken dream.

 The difference between Bettman and the Phoenix is that it’s Judge Redfield T. Baum that has a match in one hand and a fire extinguisher in the other. But the nest is ready.

  If indeed Balsillie wins and public money dries up, it will have a trickle down effect not only on the construction of new buildings but on the whole business of valuating sports franchises in North America.

 From the ashes a new reality dawns.