Almost everywhere I go these days, someone asks the question: Why not Jim Balsillie?
For some reason, there is this misconception that just because the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan have put their 66% stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment – the Leafs, Raptors, Toronto FC, Air Canada Centre etc – up for auction that the billionaire Balsillie is one of the likely suitors for majority ownership of Canada’s largest sports company.
From the outside, it might make some sense. From the inside, it makes absolutely none.
For starters, whomever buys the Teachers’ shares has to work with current board chairman, Larry Tanenbaum, who holds right of first refusal on any MLSE shares sold. With Balsillie, that would never fly: Not that long ago, Balsillie was investigating the possibility of putting a second team in Toronto or around Toronto. You think Tanenbaum would agree to do business with someone who tried to unseat his own business and potentially raise a challenge to that empire?
Knowing Tanenbaum, the answer to that question is elementary.
The second hurdle in Balsillie’s way, if he had any interest in bidding, which he hasn’t said he does, is the National Hockey League itself. In order to become an owner, he would require league approval. There is basically no chance the NHL would approve of him. They still blame him, in part, for what became of the expensive Phoenix mess which is still all over the league’s hands, and many NHL governors and high-end executives have nothing but bad things to say about Balsillie’s attempts to be an owner in Pittsburgh and Nashville before the Phoenix end-around.
So the next time someone mentions Jim Balsillie, the RIM billionaire, as a potential owner of the Leafs, smile and tell them the truth – it’s absolutely impossible.