It’s our game, Balsillie says

 

Hockey is our game. Canadians get that. I grew up in Peterborough, Ont., playing minor hockey, dreaming of one day being an NHL player. Millions of Canadian kids have shared that dream. Now I have been fortunate enough to see another dream on the verge of becoming reality, to bring a seventh NHL team back to Canada.

 
 
 
 
 

Hockey is our game. Canadians get that. I grew up in Peterborough, Ont., playing minor hockey, dreaming of one day being an NHL player. Millions of Canadian kids have shared that dream. Now I have been fortunate enough to see another dream on the verge of becoming reality, to bring a seventh NHL team back to Canada.

We Canadians have passion for the game in abundance, but the NHL also has rules and regulations. I have always set out to meet those requirements.

NHL bylaws state that the most important factors in determining a franchise are who the owner is, what kind of market the team plays in and whether the arena plan is solid. Let’s look closely at those factors in terms of my bid to purchase the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes and move them to Hamilton.

First, the owner. I will let others speak about my business career as co-CEO of Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry. I do believe our business is one of the true Canadian success stories and proof that you can be Canadian-based, with the best minds and best people, and compete on the global stage. My absolute commitment as an owner is to working co-operatively with the NHL and the league’s board of governors to elevate the NHL and raise the value of all its franchises.

Secondly, the market. Southern Ontario is by far the best unserved hockey market in the world. It’s an urban centre of more than seven million people, the fourth largest in North America behind New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. The fact that more than 135,000 hockey fans — think of that as more than seven NHL arenas filled to capacity — from across Canada have shown support for a seventh NHL team through our website www.makeitseven.ca demonstrates the vitality of this market.

Finally, the arena. I have released plans, as required by the NHL’s relocation application format, to renovate Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum. The design, completed by one of the world’s leading sports architecture firms, has drawn rave reviews and would truly make this one of the top-tier arena facilities in the NHL, meeting or exceeding all of the league’s technical requirements for NHL arenas.

Not so long ago, the NHL said it was not considering locating another team in southern Ontario. That’s fair enough. But since Canadians demonstrated this huge groundswell of support in recent weeks, the NHL has said it now believes southern Ontario is a good hockey market and can support another NHL franchise.

For that turnaround, I give full credit to Canadian hockey fans. It has been a true grassroots movement by the fans from coast to coast, opening the door to another NHL team in Canada. I truly believe that, ultimately, it will be the fans who influence the outcome here. I will meet the NHL’s technical requirements. But we couldn’t do this without the fans. They are making the impossible become possible.

Some have called the Phoenix Coyotes’ bankruptcy and my offer to purchase the team unusual. But the situation is not unprecedented. Teams have relocated before in the face of financial distress, in all professional sports. In fact, the Coyotes franchise was the Winnipeg Jets team before being moved to Phoenix. Unfortunately it does not appear to be financially viable in Phoenix and, when viewed objectively through the lens of the NHL bylaws and constitution, qualifies for relocation.

At the end of the day, we need an outcome that makes sense for the NHL and for the league’s owners. We also have to consider the Coyotes’ creditors, who have told a Phoenix bankruptcy court that my offer best addresses their concerns about being paid back the money they are owed.

Some might also recall that my application to become an NHL owner was approved unanimously by all 30 NHL board of governors members when I attempted to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins. People who have worked with me in business or in philanthropy will tell you that my only goal — in anything I approach — is to leave a situation in much better shape than when I found it. That’s what I am all about, and that is what this bid is all about.

An NHL team cannot only survive, but thrive, in Hamilton. With the backing of amazingly supportive hockey fans across southern Ontario and in fact all of Canada, we can make it seven.

Jim Balsillie is co-CEO of Waterloo-based Research in Motion (RIM) and founder of the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).
 
 
 
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