Saturday, August 29, 2009

An Open Letter to Gary and Jim

Dear Gary and Jim,

You don't know me, and you're probably wondering why I bothered to send a letter to you. I'm just a hockey fan who loves the game, and it's brash of me to send this to each of you, but I have been watching the drama in Phoenix with interest and a growing sense of distress. Guys, this has turned into a disaster of epic proportions, and the negative repercussions of this mess are going to harm the game for a long time. So if I may be so bold, I want to offer some suggestions.

Jim, I'm going to start with you. I will admit that I don't have positive feelings about you since you tried to pirate away my beloved Predators, and frankly, I don't care if you ever get a team. Now that I have that out of the way, let me be frank with you. It's obvious that you are a successful businessman and passionate about the game. That is commendable. It's also obvious that you really don't care about rules and conventions. I mean, paying the largest fine in the history of the Canadian securities industry for rules violations and over $700MM for patent infringement tells me that rules have little meaning to you. You have to realize, however, that the NHL is built on a certain set of rules as enumerated in their by-laws and constitution. Don't you think this process would have been easier and maybe even have worked in your favor if you chose to follow those rules? So the first suggestion I would offer you is get someone on your staff to make sure you are complying with the rules. Stop looking for "side doors"- everyone knows that is your attempt to circumvent the rules. The constant effort to bend the rules to your wishes obviously is meeting with resistance and makes the path to ownership more difficult.

Secondly, lose your legal thug Richard Rodier. It is plain as day that he abets this process. You need sound counsel that understands how the game is played, not someone that attempts to constantly game the system. Be transparent about everything. Now I know this next suggestion may be very difficult for you, but you need to do it. Apologize to the League and the Board of Governors for the way you have conducted this attempted confiscation of the Coyotes. There are a lot of hurt feelings and an ocean of animosity that exists toward you by the powers that be. A sincere apology will go a long way toward healing those rifts.

And Jim, stop fomenting this "us against them" mentality cloaked in Canadian nationalism. It does no one any good and long term it is harming the game. Sure, hockey was birthed in Canada, but it is no more exclusively your sport than football is exclusively our sport. It is a beautiful game that is growing in new markets and gaining new fans. Trying to rip away a franchise through subversive means under the guise of nationalism is a cheap ploy.

Jim, you have stepped on your di, uh, toes. You are a butt head of the first magnitude. Does that mean you shouldn't be an owner, or wouldn't be a positive influence on the game? I don't think so. Stop making it so difficult to accept you into the club. You are driven, talented, and passionate. Those are fine qualities that have been obscured by your behavior. Channel those qualities within the framework of the NHL system, and I think you would be good for the game.

Gary, what can I say about this mess? Let's specifically start with Phoenix. I feel for the fans of the Coyotes who are in limbo and have the cloud of potentially losing their franchise hanging over their head. Sure is difficult to generate fan interest in that type of environment, isn't it? But I have to ask you a question. Doesn't anyone in the league office review any potential venue change for a franchise? Gary, you got an arena in the middle of what was once a cotton field with very little around it and about an hour's drive from the main component of the fan base. What were you thinking? What was anyone thinking in this process? Someone at the league office has to be looking at these situations and offering some objective advice about the potential negatives of this location. Now the horse is out of the barn, so we have to deal with the situation as it stands. I wouldn't expect concessions from the City of Glendale, so your task is to work with the team to get revenues up. You have to work with the new owner in any way feasible to make this happen. Be creative here, and offer the full support of the League to make this happen.

And what about the finances of this team, Gary? They have been hemorrhaging red ink for years. Didn't that raise any red flags in your office? Did no one look at their financials? It certainly is easier to deal with problems when they are smaller than when they explode like this one has. The League hopefully will learn from this and intervene, when necessary, at a time that is appropriate in future situations that are similar.

You know, Gary, even to a bystander like me, it is apparent that you and Jim are, to use a technical term, in a pissing contest. I know Jim is a pain, and he has disdained the rules of the League. But I have to believe there is some common ground that can be found between the League and Jim, and ultimately, he could be good for the League. Here is a suggestion. I think Canada needs at least two additional teams. Make Hamilton one of the expansion teams. I know, there is this Buffalo and Toronto market territory thing, but this is what I would do. Have the Hamilton franchise pay these teams a fee for five years an amount that is equal to the loss of ticket revenues and sponsorships that occur once the Hamilton franchise is in operation. Take the average of three years top line revenue for Toronto and Buffalo prior to the initial season that a Hamilton franchise begins operation. If the top line revenue (gross ticket revenue and sponsorship revenue) declines from that average, then Hamilton will pay the difference. This gives each team time to stabilize their ticket sales and sponsorship revenue once this franchise is operational. I have to believe a franchise in Hamilton and another market in Canada would be good for the League, ameliorate some of the animosity that Canadians feel toward the League, and remove the temptation to pry an existing franchise out of its market and relocate it north of the border. And Gary, should Jim apologize for his past indiscretions, then accept it and move forward. Jim has to re-sell himself to the Board of Governors. If he can do that and abide by the rules, then accept him as an owner.

Jim, it's no secret that you are generally despised south of the border. Gary, you are not exactly loved north of the border. And the NHL has a public relations nightmare as its dirty laundry is being aired for all to see. Think how you two could turn this massive negative into a positive PR coup if you find a way to work this out. Working this out in a positive manner improves the image that you both have, not to mention being generally good for the game. And how sweet would it be to get a healthy franchise in Phoenix and two additional franchises in Canada?

As I mentioned, I'm just a fan that loves the game. I want the Coyotes to succeed. I want markets in Canada that can support a franchise to have one. And I want you guys to stop tearing the game apart. Thanks for listening.


  1. Brilliant, just f-ing brilliant.

  2. Couldn't have said it better, Mark; great post.

    Who knows, Maybe Gary is listening. I sure as heck would bet 'Jim' is (he or his cronies track these blogs like a hawk)...

    Nice work.

  3. As much as I enjoyed your thoughts here, any Hamilton franchise would crush Buffalo from a loss of revenue and tickets. I can't support that... Buffalo may be one of the smallest markets in the league, but it is also one of the most fiercely loyal, and I can't just see letting it slip away for the almighty BlackBerry dollar. I will never support a franchise in Hamilton. Buffalo carries the blue collar banner with Pittsburgh and Detroit, and believe me if they had been as bad as the Penguins and gotten Malkin/Crosby in the draft, you'd never hear about them being infringed upon.

  4. I've spent most of the weekend away from the computer and came back to find this post. This is one of you best efforts and right on target. If this pissing match continues to fester going forward, Ballsillie will possibly start a competing league, most probably when the next labor contract period comes up in 2 summers. If anyone thinks it is a mess now, it only stands to get worse.

  5. To my fellow Predator fan that took the time to write an excellent letter, thank you! I was fortunate to be able to grow up with the NHL and was fortunate to be able to watch Gordie Howe and a lot of other great players of that era.

    While I do not wish anything bad on Balsillie, it will be a long time before I or other Predator fans have a great deal of trust or respect for what he says or does. There won’t be any Blackberries in my house. An apology to the fans in Nashville would also be appreciated. While we overcame his actions and those of his attorney, we went through a lot of trials and tribulations that we should not have had to endure. We do have a stronger fan base than before and we will be here for a long time.

    To our friends in Canada, we thank you for the game of hockey. But please don’t say that we don’t deserve to have hockey in the non-traditional market. Remember, while this sport is big in Canada, four of the original six teams where from the US and today twenty-four of the thirty teams are US. There have been both Canadian and US teams that were moved because they did not make it in a particular market.

    I would love to see you have another team in Canada, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up one of ours. Many of our fans were former Red Wing fans and fans from other NHL cities who came to Nashville. I know you are passionate about your teams but do not underestimate the fans at a Predator game. I have never been to a Canadian arena, but would love to go to a game at Calgary, Edmonton or Vancouver to watch your passion. Just don’t tell me that I cannot be just as passionate a fan when most of those who criticize this non-traditional market have ever experienced a Predator game. Ask some of the Canadian players what it is like to have the coach call a timeout with ten minutes remaining in a game and not be able to hear the coach because of a standing ovation that lasts the entire timeout and then through the rest of the game. We are passionate about our team!

    The players who come here love it here and so do their families. One of the great things about hockey is the character of the players. Balsillie has not demonstrated that either he or his attorney have the character it takes to be a member of the NHL. He is not the only Canadian who can afford a team. Unless he changes, the NHL deserves better.