Friday, May 20, 2011

Winnipeg represents a defeat for Gary Bettman

Gary Bettman's southern U.S. strategy has had some successes but is also littered with disasters. There 9 teams that exist in southern states including 2 in Florida, and Southern California, and 1 in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Arizona. They have one 4 Stanley Cups (Tampa Bay, Dallas, Carolina, Anaheim) over the past 12 years. Canada has just 6 teams and over the same period haven't won any Cups.

Too many of these teams as well as other smaller market American teams are on life support. Partly due to poor management, insufficient corporate sponsorship and a weak fan base. Meanwhile a 30 team league has also watered down the product. We don't know how many teams are actually for sale. We do know that Phoenix has been on the market for the past 2 years and the Atlanta team has had a for sale sign out for 5 years with no local interest prepared to step forward. Buffalo recently changed hands after being on the market for some time. Supposedly Columbus, St. Louis, Dallas, Nashville and the Islanders are on the market too. It seems the True North group in Winnipeg are the only buyers out there.

Winnipeg has a committed ownership group and fan base but it will still be a small market team that might need to dip into the league's equalization payment scheme. At least it won't be a desert based team where hockey is more of a novelty than a passion. Which raises the question what is the NHL going to do about the Coyotes? Glendale has agreed to cover losses for another season which provides some more time to locate a potential owner that is willing use their own money to keep the team local. The likelihood of finding such a person is on par with Jim Balsillie being awarded an NHL franchise - zilch. But 12 months from now relocating to Winnipeg will no longer be an option for the Coyotes. It seems the next most viable option is Quebec but what if in the interim another desperate owner pursues Quebec? The NHL will really be stuck. Will it look to the Southern Ontario market despite strong objections from the Toronto Maple Leafs? Is the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan looking to unload its share of the Leafs because of possible encroachment into their territory which would reduce the value of their equity in the team?

Stay tuned.

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