Balsillie gets the Boots
Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie's deal to purchase the Nashville Predators of the NHL and relocate the team to Hamilton appears unlikely as the current owner prepares to announce an exclusive deal with a new bidder, the National Post has learned.
According to sources familiar with the events, Craig Leipold, owner of the Predators, informed Mr. Balsillie late Monday — less than a week before their deal was to close on June 30 — that he has decided to walk away from the US$238-million offer announced last month. Instead, he plans to pursue a less lucrative bid from California businessman William (Boots) DelBiaggio. It is widely expected that Mr. DelBiaggio will relocate the Predators to Kansas City once Nashville's lease at the Sommet Center arena expires.
But the key passage in this piece comes a little ways down, where yet another of those anonymous sources that have become so integral to fleshing out the details reveals that grandmaster Gary Bettman is behind the latest machinations playing out in the press:
...others say Mr. Leipold, who is expected to sign a binding, exclusive deal with Mr. DelBiaggio's group Thursday, has accepted substantially less money as a result of intense pressure from Mr. Bettman, who wanted to usher a team to Kansas City.Colour me unsurprised.
You know, it's no secret the NHL is dying to fill that void in Kansas City (the empty arena, not the need for a hockey team), but to go to this extent? To deny loyal soldier Leipold somewhere in the neighbourhood of $50-million and somehow get him to go along with that decision?
That's an interesting development.
It had always been posited that Balsillie had created some leverage by serving up so much for the Predators, outbidding all sane offers by a wide margin and, as they say, making an offer Leipold couldn't refuse.
Even insane funds, it seems, aren't enough to knock some sense into the NHL, and especially so when the source of those funds is a Canadian billionaire who dares to get in the way of a ridiculous plan to relocate from one terrible market to another. History has shown this to be a tried and true plan of attack for the league, one that has seen clubs move from Oakland to Cleveland to the dustbin, and, yes(!), even from beloved Kansas City to Colorado, where the Rockies lasted four seasons before moving to New Jersey.
Lately, the Devils have been ailing, while hockey has boomed in Denver. Follow the bouncing ball.
History has shown that what the NHL and its merry band of grumpy governors want, they get, and this has been a league hellbent on moving into more American markets since the original expansion days in 1967. We'll have another hockey franchise in Missouri as soon as possible, whether that makes sense (financially or otherwise) or not.
The Board of Governors are heavily influenced by the money-making Maple Leafs and the ignorance of many of the American owners, wealthy men who "think a team in Hamilton might erode the 'major league' status of the NHL."
So while the leadership clutches for dust, Mr. BlackBerry gets blown away.
As much as I'd like to see Balsillie join the BoG ranks and shake things up a little bit in that stodgy group, it's probably best if he walks away now, saving himself — and those 14,000 fans that have purchased tickets in Hamilton — more grief. It's going to take more than one renegade would-be owner in order for the NHL to ever serve up a team to Balsillie; there will also have to be someone on the outs who has the willpower to stick it out through an ugly, tedious and expensive battle with Bettman and friends.
Leipold's had enough of the sideshow, both in terms of ownership and checking out, and who can blame him? He'll take the money the NHL wants him to, rather than fritter away his unexpected profit on the legalities involved in accepting the highest bid.