To Mr. Balsillie,
Stop wasting your time trying to buy a National Hockey League franchise. Even if Gary Bettman gets run over by a bus, and a new commissioner would welcome you with open arms, you would still be unhappy. You would have to learn to get along with 29 other owners, and try to compromise and appease to others agendas.
Why not do like the moguls of Boston Pizza did and start your own hockey league? In the 1990’s, Jim Treliving and George Melville founded the Central Hockey League in Texas, and today, the state has more professional hockey teams than any other area in North America. Borrow a page from them, and create a league where you can do things your way, and not have to be diplomatic and acquiesce to what others believe will benefit their own interests.
There would be just one small caveat – you would invest in a women’s hockey league. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League has some of the finest players in the world playing for them at NO SALARY?!?! In your own league, you could pay your players $1000 a season and they would be happy. Hockey games could be broadcast on the Blackberry and you would be able to have sponsors. The Blackberry could be used to broadcast a league draft, have a weekly hot stove, and serve as a strong foundation towards a women’s ice hockey empire.
While you probably have the charisma and marketing genius of a Jack Kent Cooke (one of the legendary team owners in professional sports), men’s sports does not need another billionaire owner. If you were to invest in professional women’s hockey, you would be seen as one of the pioneers or builders of that sport. Your contributions to women’s hockey would probably give you a better chance to get inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder of the sport.
You need to go where there is a challenge. Building a women’s hockey league might have the potential for failure like the ABL (American Basketball League) and the XFL (Xtreme Football League), but if it takes off, you will have a very valuable asset on your hands. If the CWHL can build an entire league on a shoestring budget, and survive, you could create a league that would do more than survive, it would thrive.
The cost of starting a women’s league (with four to six teams) would be significantly cheaper than buying a National Hockey League franchise. With the money you save, you could invest in marketing and promoting the league. Look at what happened to the American Football League. The Buffalo Bills were founded in 1960 for $40,000, and today, they are worth over $500,000,000. If you start a league and it fails, it is just a tax write-off. Should the league start and succeed, an initial investment of several thousand could be worth millions.
In reality, the building blocks are already in place to build a league. The Minnesota Whitecaps and the Manitoba Maple Leafs are looking for a home since the Western Women’s Hockey League folded. The Edmonton Chimos (the first true dynasty in post World War II Western Canadian women’s hockey), Ottawa Lady Senators and Vaughan Flames are all defunct teams that could use new life. Add another team in a United States hockey hotbed like Wisconsin, and you are in business.
While the media might have a laugh or two at your expense, rest assured that the players would be very grateful. Too many of the women in hockey have played in front of empty seats, and struggled for years in conditions that seemed more like a beer league, and less like a professional league. Many of them paid their dues at the university level, therefore, a chance for these articulated, well educated athletes to play at a professional level in which they would receive some type of compensation would make them very happy. In addition, you could offer profit sharing to the players, and that would be a tremendous motivational factor. The great irony is that your league could be so successful, the NHL might make you an offer to buy it.