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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lies and the Lying Liars That Cut Deals With Them


Gary, we need to have a talk.

Quoth The Tennessean:

Doug Bergeron, a California-based Canadian investor and entrepreneur and
president of DGB Investments, was among those to whom Del Biaggio tried to
market a share of the Predators.

Bergeron said Del Biaggio told him in December that
National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman's office had given special
permission for Del Biaggio to buy a share of the team without being subjected to
all the scrutiny the league usually gives to prospective owners. Del Biaggio
told him the commissioner's office did not require him to show audited financial
statements before it approved him.
If that wasn't fun enough, here's the verbage straight from Bergeron's mouth.

Boots bragged to me that he was able to convince Bettman's office to overlook
the need for his audited financial statements because
it was too
much work

Not that I needed to say it but, emphasis mine in that quote.

Too much work? Really? So, let's run down Herr Bettman's magic hit list of wonderment:

Tradition? Hates it.

Canada? Hates it. A little less so now that they make money, but still, not a fan.

Fiesty Canadian billionaire geniuses? Hates them.

Doing his job? Not a big fan.

Finding the easy way out every time?

Oh hell yeah!

I know, I'd rather be writing about fun hockey news, but this nonsense is too much to ignore.

Ladies and gentlemen - your commissioner. The garden variety weasel:

To be somewhat fair to Bettman, the facts unleashed in this story out of The Tennessean are quite damning of Boots Del Biaggio and his terrible management of money and ability to massage other people and glad hand his way into getting involved with the Nashville investment group and making others believe he was awash in cash.

This makes Bettman one of many who got fooled by Del Biaggio and would normally lend itself to feeling bad for him and others, like the Nashville Metropolitan Council, who took it on the chin from this scumbag.

Nashville Metro, however, is only a victim because Gary's backroom dealing with a friend by convenience (convenience in that his name wasn't Jim Balsillie) made it all possible. After all, The Tennessean makes this point as clear as day:

Metro had such confidence in the thoroughness of the NHL's vetting process that
it relied heavily on the league and the chief lender, CIT Group, to do the
financial vetting of the prospective Predators owners.
This says a lot about what happens when you fish out the work you should be doing for yourself and it's a lesson that isn't lost on the Metro Council now, I'm sure.

The point being here that the NHL goes through a painstaking process to approve new owners and they've got a pretty good recent history of turning down verified big money people that want to buy teams. Jim Balsillie wasn't the first billionaire to get shot down for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban got it too.

Bettman opened the door here though. Do not forget this.

By skirting the process and speed delivering Boots to not only make sure that the Predators didn't go anywhere but also to shut out Balsillie, Bettman nearly commits to the self-fulfilling prophecy in that the Predators may not have much time left in the city of Nashville. Nashville and their investors were at least smart enough to get legally binding assurances and protection from anything that might go wrong in the process, but the fact is, this team is in trouble again and this time, the league and Gary Bettman are doing them no favors by mishandling their dealings.

What a nightmare.

Bettman should be ashamed of himself for this, but he's already put Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly to work spinning the company line that they dotted every "I" and crossed every "T" in the process, but thankfully, we know better thanks to the words from Doug Bergeron.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Modest Proposal

It's interesting that in this hockey-centric blog that the word "modesty" is being mentioned at all this time of year. NHL general managers can't wait to get rid of the money the owners make and spend it recklessly on players who may, and likely, may not have earned their new paychecks. A statement like that should be linked with articles talking about such insane money-tossing, but those are too numerous to count right now.

Suffice to say, a guy like Jeff Finger, who only two years ago I was watching carve up the ice in Albany for the AHL River Rats, is now making $3.5 million a year for the Maple Leafs and he hasn't even played 100 NHL games yet nor could he crack the starting lineup more often than not for the Avalanche in the playoffs last year.

But I digress.

I'd like to talk about how Herr Bettman's love of all things American could be put to best use, rather than ripping him for doing so ad nauseum, which I've developed a bit of a penchant for doing.

My source for this inspiration actually derives from a miserable failing of Bettman's former boss and role model, David Stern who recently acted as the hitman for the murder of professional basketball in Seattle.

That's right, the city to a former NBA Champion, the Supersonics won the NBA Championship in 1979, you know, when the NBA was a floundering league that had its title games aired in tape delay on CBS and was overwraught with drug problems.

Seattle's only professional sports championship is courtesy of the Sonics. Seattle also is a big time legitimate city in the United States, at least as far as media market rankings go. Seattle/Tacoma is 14th largest in the United States and has been a city without a professional, NHL-level team since 1924.

Hell, the first American Stanley Cup Champions were the Seattle Metropolitans in 1917.

What's most heinous here is that the main beef for the Sonics shuffling off to the wilds of Oklahoma City (Market size 45 according to Nielsen) is the way Stern has basically told Seattle, "If you ever want to see the NBA again, you'll build us a new arena."

It's this sort of attitude that the NHL and Bettman should take advantage of and work with the city to show that they care and are willing to play the role of the white knight.

During the ridiculous Nashville ownership wranglings, writers and speculators made it a point to pick out different U.S. markets that are interested in and would love to take on NHL franchises. Cities like Las Vegas (thanks to Jerry Bruckheimer's interest in owning a team) and Kansas City (due to the availability of a spacious new 18,000 seat arena) were the places picked out as most logical.

Seattle rarely, if ever, entered into the equation.

Why? Well, it's pretty likely that the answer lies in Canada.

A move to Seattle would, almost assuredly, get the dander up of the Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini. Seattle sits 140 miles to the south of Vancouver and Vancouver's claim to the region would be highly challenged putting a team in a large, U.S. market that, the Canucks would argue, watches and loves the Canucks.

I'm sure there are many arguments into the validity of this, but let's face it, 140 miles isn't that far away, a two to three hour drive away at most. Such closeness is surely a great argument in favor of the Canucks keeping their hold over the market and them having any fans leeched away from a team being located in Seattle must be valid.

Wait... what's that? Buffalo and Toronto are only 93 miles apart? Both teams sell out their arenas? They have a thriving rivalry? Toronto fans go out of their way to get tickets in Buffalo to see games there because they're cheaper tickets and easier to land than Leafs tickets? All of these things happen and neither team loses anything being so close?


Well then.

So, tell me Gary, why wouldn't you want to do this? Why wouldn't you want to ride in and work out a deal with the city of Seattle to move say... the Florida Panthers or Atlanta Thrashers to Seattle with the help of Starbucks owner and champion of all things Seattle, Howard Schultz? After all, Schultz wants to bring a law suit against the NBA and the owner of the now Oklahoma City NBA franchise, Clay Bennett.

Schultz loves pro sports in Seattle so much, you'd like to think he'd be behind a project to bring a floundering NHL franchise to the city, you know, to fill the void. Think of the marketing potential Gary. Starbucks is the biggest brand of coffee in the world now. Their shops are everywhere, and in the western U.S. there is none bigger to compete with them.

You hear that Gary? A product known worldwide and has a foothold stronger than anything in the Western United States! Think of the potential!

It's been pretty clear that hockey in South Florida is a miserable failure. No, I know Gary, they made the Cup Finals in 1996 and leaving a city that's had a taste of success would be tragic.

What about Atlanta then Gary? They're currently a two-time failure at holding the interest of the fans. Nevermind the fact that Atlanta is a brutally awful professional sports market, this is a place that still finds it necessary to point out the most mundane aspects of hockey to its paying customers by announcing them over the public address.

Yes folks, we know the rules to icing are confusing and maybe the rules to offsides might be a bit hard to understand, but don't worry, the Thrashers PA guy will tell you what it is every time it happens. Brilliant move Gary - you should make sure they stick it out in Atlanta.

If Bettman isn't going to find a way to contract franchises and if he wants to make the right move and play the good guy for once, sweet talk Howard Schultz and tell him there's another sport that plays games between October and June. Tell him there's another way to bring fun to the people of Seattle. Tell him you'll work out a way to help pay for a new arena in Seattle and make sure that the people of Seattle don't have to pay for it.

Be the good guy Gary. Save face on one of your failed southern experiments and send them north. No, not to Canada. Send them to Seattle and resurrect the ghosts of the Metropolitans, much like the NHL did in Ottawa with the Senators.

Oh, and, uh, Gary, ignore this little connection of Blackberry and Starbucks while you're at it - I'd hate for you to toss out this idea spitefully.