Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Reckless rumours won't bring back the Winnipeg Jets

Before I address the latest rumour of that the National Hockey League has a contingency plan to move the Phoenix Coyotes back to Winnipeg, I want to start with a commercial:

Regardless of your feelings on the issue, you have to admit, it’d be all kinds of awesome if Shane Doan- the only player from the Jets left on the Coyotes- did a similar ad should the Coyotes do become the Jets again.

Now, to business: there’s no reason to believe that the Winnipeg Jets are coming back any time soon.

The latest spat of rumours began on Monday, when the Phoenix Business Journal (PBJ) reported that the NHL- which owns the Coyotes- talked with Toronto businessman David Thompson and MTS Centre owners True North Sports and Entertainment (TNSE) about developing a backup plan to move the should either deal with Ice Edge Holdings or Jerry Reinsdorf fall through. At the centre of the issue is the team’s lease with the Phoenix suburb of Glendale, with Reinsdorf wanting $20 million in concessions and Ice Edge asking for $15 million; and the fact that “time is running out”. During the bankruptcy proceedings last year, the NHL stated that if they could not get a deal to keep the Coyotes in the Phoenix area by June 2010, the NHL would open the bidding process to buyers willing to move the team.

Since the article came out we’ve seen the expected denials from the parties involved. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly issued a statement later on Monday reiterating the league’s confidence that a deal can be completed to keep the team in Arizona. TNSE came out with their own denial, specifically stating that no deal was in place to purchase the Coyotes should complications in the ownership situation arise. Thompson’s group also denied involvement in the same statement.

At this stage, there’s nothing to suggest that is anything more than a rumour being promulgated by a jaded Canadian public. The PBJ article is sketchy with the details, explaining that it got its material from “two sources with knowledge of the Coyotes finances and ownership” without naming the sources and not really going in depth with its claims. It also doesn’t expand on anything that wasn’t previously known as the idea of a contingency plan was in place last year. The only vaguely interesting part of the article is that TNSE had “no comment” for PBJ, saying that it wanted to respect the ownership process, which makes today’s huffy denials a startling about face. Still, it’s not a whole lot to go on in the absence of hard evidence. The most realistic explanation for the City of Winnipeg to be brought up is to put pressure on the City of Glendale to give concessions to TNSE and Reinsdorf, in much the same manner that Los Angeles is used as a pawn whenever National Football League negotiations go sour.

Now, it’s no secret that I- like a lot of Canadians- harbour a lot of bitterness towards the NHL for its handling of the Canadian hockey market, in that not only has the league consistently ignored the needs of the market, it appears to have a deep-seated contempt for it, of which the fiasco of the Jets moving to Phoenix is a prime example (it’s one reason why I can’t bring myself to support the Coyotes on their “magical” season, because the Coyotes remind me too much of the Jets). I don’t go as far as some of my brethren (and, for that matter, Jerry Moyes who said the same thing) do in wishing all the Southern franchises move north but I do believe the NHL needs to have a better grasp of the situation and realize not all of them can work. It’s also obvious that the Canadian media harbours this same grudge because they pick up on these flimsy rumours like wildfires, and even create their own (see Ken Campbell in The Hockey News who recently wrote a tiny unsubstantiated blurb about the Nashville Predators that ignited the Predator blogosphere). However, circulating these flimsy rumours is nothing more than reckless journalism, because it creates panic among the fanbases of the rumoured departing team and creates false hope among a Canadian crowd that frankly deserves answers. How is that responsible journalism?

The real solution for journalists is to remember the power of their reach and get us, as fans, to act. As it far too often happens in professional sports, fans speak out wildly about the mistreatment their team and their league gives them yet act totally complicit of that treatment. Yes, they complain that their team rose ticket prices again for next season despite stinking up the joint, yet there they are, lining up to buy those tickets all the same. Yes, they whine about ungrateful owners holding their city ransom if their arena doesn’t get a helipad, but there they are, pressing city council to open up tax funds that would be better spent improving transit or schools or hospitals. Finally, there are the Canadian fans, whining about how the NHL consistently and contemptuously ignores their market while propping up a flimsy American one, but there they are, going to the games and watching them on TV, inadvertently propping up the very Southern franchises they seek to eliminate. Sounds counterproductive isn’t it?

If Canadians want real solutions, the real course of action is to vote with our feet. Refuse to pay for the tickets. Refuse to buy the sweaters. Refuse to watch the games. Do it for a single game or carry it on until the Jets and the Quebec Nordiques, the other abandoned team, are back as NHL franchises (at least- this could be very well extended to ensuring Hamilton gets a franchise as well as other Canadian cities, such as Halifax or Thunder Bay). We as fans act like we’re powerless because we don’t have the gold cuff links and the Bimmers the NHL owners have but we forget that we’re the ones who allow the owners to have all that. As long as we keep giving money to the NHL, the owners will have no incentive to change anything. We can yell at the TV, rail on our blogs and write ridiculous rumours all we want, but until it affects the NHL’s bottom line, the owners will laugh their sheep all the way to the bank.

We still could very well see billionaires come to our aid, though. This is just speculation, but I’m positive a Kontinental Hockey League team in Canada is closer than we might think. Jim Balsillie, by now, must be soured by the NHL’s attempts to rebuff him as an owner, and must be looking at other options. Certainly the KHL, which touts itself as a major league, must have crossed his mind; and it’s no secret what the KHL’s true feelings are towards the NHL. The KHL has already talked about expanding to Europe- a plan the NHL has talked about for years- and it could follow that they’d cross the Atlantic soon afterward. As it stands now the KHL isn’t likely to be a “real” major league any time soon, but if it can get Balsillie and a good stable of Canadian and European teams- going to places that could conceivably fetch wealthy viewership numbers- on board, the KHL would have the pieces to truly compete with the NHL, if not actually take it down. Yes it’s a pipe dream right now but I bring it up because I don’t think, as fans, we realize that the KHL can very well be a viable alternative to the NHL and that maybe we should press people like Balsillie or Thompson or TNSE to push for this option.

One thing’s for sure- as long as whine and continue our donations to the NHL; and as long as our papers publish baseless crap like this, we’ll solve nothing. If we want the Jets back we, as fans, have to realize that we’re not powerless- we just have to realize where our true powers are first.


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