Thursday, May 28, 2009

Free agency for owners? It could happen

The latest round of the ongoing battle between the NHL (or maybe just Gary Bettman) and Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie was yesterday in a courtroon in Phoenix. For those that missed it, Judge Baum ruled that Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes was still the owner and therefore had the authority to file for bankruptcy protection. The NHL had been arguing that Moyes had handed over control of the team last November when the league began covering his bills.

The next step in the process is for the judge to decide to whom the team should be sold. Right now the only offer is from Balsillie and at $212.5 million it may be the only bid. Of course there is a catch. His bid is conditional on the team moving to the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. So there is a possibility that on June 12, Judge Baum rules on whether the team can relocate without NHL approval.

If the Judge says yes, this may have similar reprecussions on sports leagues as did the landmark 1975 Andy Messersmith case where baseball's reserve clause was struck down by the courts. In other words, it could provide owners with the free agency. Right now all teams can only be sold and/or relocated with the approval of the other league owners. So if you own a failing franchise in Wichita, Kansas you are stuck losing money. The league can reject any prospective buyer or a proposal by you to move your team to prosperous Augusta, Georgia.

If all you have to do is file for bankruptcy to get around league bylaws, well then who is going to even bother to get league approval. Any owner not happy in his market will look for greener pastures. Communities may begin competing with each other to lure sports teams to move. Islander owner Charles Wang can become the owner equivalent to A.J. Burnett. The Buffalo Bills could just pack their bags and move to Toronto. There would be 5 NHL teams in Toronto competing the team owned by some pension plan.

So please Judge Baum, lets break up these private clubs run by rich guys who soak fans across North America. Force these rich capitalists compete for our dollars.