Is the NHL softening on allowing Jim Balsillie to join the club? If so, why now?
The wealthy chief of Research in Motion has been angling for an NHL franchise, apparently with the intent of transferring the team to Ontario.
He has made a play for the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators the past couple years, but seemingly has been rebuffed by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and/or the owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres.
There have been suggestions that Balsillie is too aggressive and strong-willed to curry approval from Bettman and his board cronies.
Certainly, the southern Ontario market is a strong enough hockey hotbed for a second franchise to work. A newspaper report today suggests that Balsillie is gaining the support of governors to put another team in Toronto, if not elsewhere in southern Ontario.
But the timing seems way off. Financial markets are in the tank ó even Blackberry-buoyed RIM isn't immune, and Balsillie has taken a big hit, at least on paper. Gaining corporate support and selling private boxes for a new team will be a massive chore ó even in this market.
Startup costs for Balsillie would be huge. Besides the price of a franchise and potential indemnification fees to the Leafs and Sabres, there would be a need for another arena and, in the current climate, governments aren't going to provide funding for a billionaire's playpen.
On the flipside, are owners of flagging franchises in the U.S. getting a bit jittery about their financial future? Balsillie has shown a willingness to overpay for an NHL team in the past, so perhaps other owners see him as a white knight who will help keep the value of NHL franchises high during these tough times.
In the meantime, has Bettman started using a Blackberry?