Friday, June 26, 2009

Draft Day Guesses. . . . I Mean, Prognostication

Draft Day has arrived, and there are enough Mock Drafts and draft predictions out there to choke even the most ardent, Mullett-wearing hockey analyst. Puck Rakers alone has Mock Drafts from everyone except the copy boy, and even he may be in on the action under an assumed name.

This is a different draft experience for the Blue Jackets this year. First, Howson & Company will actually have to get up and walk some distance to the stage, thanks to the debut in the playoffs last season. In past years, Bettman had to step over the CBJ staff to get to the microphone. That same benefit, however, takes some of the luster out of the proceedings, as there are no "Wow!" names after the first 3 or 4 slots. Lots of good players, but nobody the average hockey fan is going to jump up and down over.

That being said, I am not going to even attempt a mock draft here. Instead, I offer some humble predictions about where the CBJ are likely to go, or at least where I think they should go, including some preliminary ideas on how free agency may impact what we do.

Of course, all of this is largely guesswork. I have done a ton of reading and listening to various commentators on NHL Network,,, etc. I have only seen highlights from a few of the draftees, so my opinions are largely based upon the observations of others. Further, as we have all learned by now, Mr. Howson prides himself on not being predictable. If we can't figure out what he is up to, neither can the opposition, and that is a good thing.

Now that I have all of the legal caveats made, here are my less-than-bold projections for the upcoming draft and beyond:

Round 1 Picks (my top 5 favorites, in order of precedence, factoring in likely availability)

  • David Runblad, D, Sweden -- Runblad has good size at 6'2" 189, is supposedly a magician with the puck, and solid in all zones. He has power play eperience. TSN has him ranked 21, but THN has him at 10. He works on the power play in the Swedish Elite League, which is amazing for someone so young. Besides, why should Detroit have all the Swedes? A lot of upside here.
  • Dmitri Kulikov, D, Drummondville -- Perhaps a reach in terms of still being available at 16, Kulikov is the real deal. Decent size at 6'1" 180, he netted 12-50-62 in 57 games for Drummondville, and many believe he could play in the NHL right now. Again, unsure if he will be around. It could come down to whether Scott Niedermeyer makes up his mind about returning prior to the draft. Anaheim has the 15 pick right before the CBJ.
  • Ryan Ellis, D, Windsor -- another Kris Russell in size, at 5'9", 173 pounds, but impossible to ignore his skating and puck handling. 89 points in 57 games for Windsor in their championship run this year, and ranked in the top 20 by every ranking service. Only issue is whether he has the ability to do the same at the NHL level, and hold up over 82 games of major league pummelling.
  • John Moore, D, Chicago - This is a solid, all-around defenseman who can compete with anybody at 6' 2", 189. A world class skater, he has the ability to get shots through from the point, and has good instincts for the puck. Only 14-25-39 for Chicago, but many believe he has much more offensive upside.
  • Simon Despres , D, St. John -- At 6'4" and 205 pounds, this guy can BRING it. At 2-30-32 over 66 games for St. Johns, he is not Bobby Orr, but plays mistake free, shut down defense and can shut opponents down.

So, there is my list. If Howson pulls the rug out and takes a forward, I look like an idiot, but hey, I do that frequently, so no big deal.

X-Factor Pick -- Here is a sleeper to watch for, either by the Blue Jackets or somebody else. Jeremy Morin from the U-18 development league is reputed to be one of the best pure shooters and goal scorers in the draft. He was 26-22-48 in 46 games this season, and apparently plays with an edge to his game, as he amassed 99 penalty minutes in those same 46 games. It is perhaps that temper that is keeping him from a sure 1st Round slot, but if the Top 5 above are gone, and he is around, don't be surprised to see Howson take a shot here. Alternatively, Howson might package a player and picks to get a high 2nd round slot if Morin is still around.

Overall Picture -- With the free-agent situation being what it is, Howson has a lot of dollars, and several bodies, to play with between the draft and free agency. I strongly suspect that some combination of bodies or picks moves to get that 2nd Round pick we used in the Vermette/LeClaire deal.

With no movement on the Manny front, he will likely join the ranks of Jason Chimera, Frederik Modin, Jared Boll, and possibly others, as being available for the right player, picks or to clear room for a bigger free agent deal. There is still concrete interest in Bouwmeister, I am told, so who knows?

Draft On Twitter -- I will be on Twitter from Nationwide tonight, so stay tuned.

Preview of Coming Attractions: Coming soon to a blog near you -- Chapter 2 of the 3-part series on the Arena situation, more free agency speculation, and other goodies.

Go Jackets!!!

Monday, June 22, 2009

This Phoenix May Not Rise From The Ashes . . .

In my first piece on the Phoenix court case, I noted that the recent ruling appeared to be a "tenuous" victory for the NHL, Glendale and some of the Coyotes' creditors. I then embarked on a quest to find a copy Judge Baum's actual ruling, as I was curious why he devoted 21 pages to simply conclude that there wasn't enough time to get everything done. My legal background led me to believe that there was more to it, and after reading the opinion, I was correct.

First, understand who the key players are in this drama. Obviously, theres is the NHL, who wants to maintain control over its franchises, both in terms of ownership and location. Second is the City of Glendale, who has a lease with the Coyotes that extends through 2035, and has additional infrastructure and other investment in the Arena itself and the surrounding Westgate City Development. Third, is Aramark, Inc. , the concessions vendor for Arena, who paid $8 million for the concession rights. All of those groups oppose the sale and the contemplated move to Hamilton.

On the other side are Jim Balsillie, the interested parties in Hamilton, Jerry Moyes (Coyotes' owner), and the remaining Coyotes' creditors. These groups support the sale, thought the creditors don't care one way or the other about the move.

Here are some basic facts for you to consider, all taken from Judge Baum's opinion, unless otherwise noted:
  • Balsillie & friends are agreeing to pay $212.5 million for the Coyotes, of which up to $22.5 million goes to Gretzky, as part owner
  • Balsilllie set the deadline of 6/29/2009 for sale to be approved
  • City of Glendale built Arena for $183 million, using bonds to fiance $155 million
  • Lease with Coyotes runs through 2035, and has extraordinarily strict and penal provisions in the event of breach, with damages as high as $795 million, depending when breach occurs.
  • Aramark contract includes a requirement that Coyotes pay $5.1 million in damages if they move.
  • In 2006, Moyes assumed control of Coyotes from Ellman (who is also prime developer of Westgate City) in deal brokered by NHL.
  • Moyes invested $300 million between 2001 and 2008. Team lost $36 million plus per year in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Moyes holds $100 million plus in claims as an unsecured creditor.
  • NHL tried to broker deal with Coyotes, Glendale etc. in the Fall 2008. Glendale refused to make concessions. NHL advanced operating funds, to be repaid from profit sharing revenue.
  • April 2009 -- Moyes goes to NHL and advises that he has buyer who wants to move the team to Ontario. This was not an official request, just a conversation. Bettman says no -- NHL owns the right in Southern Ontario.
  • May 5, 2009 -- Bettman and staff fly to Phoenix with offer to buy the Coyotes in hand, subject to modifications in lease deal. Phoenix files for bankruptcy that day, signs the sales agreement with Balsillie, and the motion to approve the sale and move is filed. (Busy day . . . )
  • June 15, 2009 -- Judge Baum issues his ruling.

While I don't want to bore you with legal technicalities, there are a few things that are notable about the Judge's ruling. First, remember that this is a bankruptcy case, not a lawsuit directly between the NHL and the Coyotes, or Balsillie and the NHL. There is a big difference. In a bankruptcy, the overriding interest of the court is in protecting the rights of the creditors of the bankrupt entity. While a lot of factors come into play, all other things being equal, the course of action that will enhance the payment to the creditors will be chosen. Here, Balsillie is agreeing to pay $212.5 million for the team. Consider that entering the season, Forbes valued the franchise at $142 million, last in the NHL. Given that the team's economic fortunes went nowhere but south during the 2008-2009 season, Balsillie is paying a premium of 80% or more. Hold that thought.

Next, as I alluded to above, he goes to great lengths to issue lengthy opinion, when he really didn't need to. He could have issued an order simply saying "Motion Denied." So, there has to be a purpose behind his ruling. There is, and we shall get there momentarily.

Additionally, the motion was denied "without prejudice", meaning that Balsillie and his team could refile it at any time, and the judge could look at it anew. Intriguing, but not alarming, by itself.

Now let's return to Judge Baum's motive for issuing a fairly lengthy, detailed ruling, when he really did not need to do it. The answer is one word -- Leverage. Each of the parties brought a number of arguments to the table, and Judge Baum spent 21 pages giving each party cause for concern. As for the NHL, he noted that they had previously approved Balsillie as an owner in 2006, and could not in good faith turn around and deny the sale based upon the identity or qualifications of Balsillie and his group. As for Balsillie, he observed that the NHL does own the rights to geographical expansion, and that his motion made no provision for compensating the NHL for the loss of that right in Southern Ontario. For Glendale, he strongly suggested that some of there legal arguments supporting their alleged right to block a move or get huge damages might not hold much water in bankruptcy court.

Judge Baum is using this opinion to send a message to the litigants -- "Don't be too comfortable in your position". The more confident a litigant is in a position , the more entrenched they become. Conversely, the more doubt that creeps in, the more flexible parties become. Judge Baum wants the parties to come to their own agreement, and is using his legal analysis to force a compromise. In a footnote to the decision, he writes:

It was suggested by some parties at the hearing that the parties should attempt to resolve the relocation issue by mediation; if the parties are willing to mediate this and the related issues, the court encourages, as strongly as it can, to do so; sooner rather than later.

That is a clear, but diplomatic, way of saying -- "Fix it, or I will fix it for you."

Reading the whole opinion, the tone is one that says to Balsillie "OK, I like the sale, but we have to address the damage to the NHL, and show me that you can jump the few legal hurdles to get out of the Glendale lease. Since they refused to compromise, they are in trouble. You picked the time frame, so either extend the deadline or go home."

Balsillie's lawyers are no dummies. Within the past two days, they have notified the parties that they are willing to extend the deadline to September 15. The heat is on.

Let's face it. Phoenix wont draw flies this year if they stay in Phoenix, as everyone knows by now that it just is not working, and too much money has already been thrown down the drain trying to fix it. The Balsillie offer makes a lot of $$$ available to the creditors, which is what the court is looking for. The only way to block it is for the NHL to come up with a sweeter offer, but then still be in a bad market with a bad lease.

Prediction: The motion to approve a sale will be refiled within two weeks. Around the same time, serious discussions will be underway. The net result is that the NHL gets some cash and a face-saving arrangement with Balsillie to preserve its territorial rights. Glendale gets a token payment. The price may go up or down a bit, but Balsillie gets the team and goes to Hamilton. Realignment occurs, moving Hamilton into the Central Division of the West with Columbus, Chicago, Detroit and Nashville, while St. Louis moves into one of the other two divsions, and the other appropriate changes are made.

Stay tune for more . . .

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Arena Chronicles -- Part I -- The Present

Well, at long last my fingers have made it to the keyboard, and my take on the Blue Jackets/Arena situation is underway. While my tardiness has been due in part to work commitments, I have also spent a lot of time digging into the details and background, to the extent possible, in order to paint the most factual picture possible. Here are some of the things I have pursed in preparing for this blog series, as well as the series I am presenting at Inside Hockey:
  • Interviewed Blue Jackets Sr. VP/General Counsel Greg Kirstein
  • Spoke with Blue Jackets Public Relations VP Todd Sharrock and obtained some background information from him
  • Interviewed Franklin County Commissioner John O'Grady
  • Researched and reviewed background material on the Nationwide Arena deal and the Arena District in general
  • Researched information concerning other cities, and how arenas/stadiums have fared there.
  • Reviewed court filings and orders in the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy case to glean information from that situation.
  • Researched other development projects with which the County has become involved.

The major notable gap in my efforts so far is the lack of a Nationwide representative in the mix. I will continue to work on that angle, and will hopefully be able to contribute more from their perspective later.

I have split this whole topic up into three segments -- roughly devoted to The Present, The Past and The Future, in that order. Why not start with the past? To be honest, I thought it was more important to focus on the here and now first -- firmly framing what the issues are (and what they aren't), addressing some of the misperceptions that have emerged since this issue came to light, and in general moving the debate from emotion to fact. As noted in one of my previous posts, I have seen several of these scenarios play out over the years. The one common denominator among all of them is that the sooner the debate began to focus on fact, rather than conjecture or emotion, the more progress was made.

Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, let's get down to the substance, one topic at a time (sources/quotes are attributed within each topic, and I will endeavor to make it clear when my own opinion comes into play):

Prevailing Attitude

I think it is really important to understand the attitude that the Blue Jackets are bringing to the table in this entire scenario. Greg Kirstein went to great lengths to point out that "there are no bad guys" in this story. Todd Sharrock echoed those sentiments. While it is easy to immediately look for blame to assign when issues arise, you won't find that coming from the CBJ camp. Whether they are talking about Nationwide, Franklin County, Ohio State, the City of Columbus or state legislators, the CBJ are taking the high road. While cynics might argue that it is in the Blue Jackets' best interest to take that approach, that is almost always the case, yet few organizations actually do it. I am not so naive to think that public pronouncements correspond completely with private sentiment, but the CBJ deserve credit for attempting to start off with a non-confrontational atmosphere.

It's An Arena Issue --Economics Lesson

Another point Kirstein made, is that this is truly an Arena issue, not a Blue Jackets issue. A lot of internet postings and angry rumblings were referring to the "sin tax" proposal as a "Blue Jackets bailout", which is fundamentally incorrect. The Blue Jackets had their operations extensively reviewed by one of the top sports franchise operations consulting groups in the country, and undoubtedly the top group for hockey. The NHL also took a look at things. Their unanimous opinion, is that the Blue Jackets are fine, the market is good, the facility is good . . . but the lease sucks. The consultants calculated that the Jackets are upside down to the tune of about $12.1 million per year on the lease, compared with other teams in the NHL.

It all comes down to revenue that other teams enjoy, but the Blue Jackets cannot access. We will discuss all of the reasons for that in the next installment, but suffice it to say that this is one of the perils of a privately owned arena. Keep in mind that Nationwide is one of only two professional sports facilities in the country that were privately financed. The other is AT&T Park in San Francisco, home of the Giants. That is not a good comparison, however, as over half of the $260 million construction price tag was paid for by naming rights. The Giants took out loans for the balance, and, as owners of the facility, receive all of the revenue. I could not find numbers on the economic performance of AT & T Park.

The Jackets have documented losses of $80 million since 2002. A big chunk of that came during the lockout year, when the late Mr. Mac refused to implement large-scale layoffs. Former President/GM Doug MacLean has been quoted as pegging the losses for that year alone at $17 million. Kirstein could not confirm or deny that number, but it is in keeping with the attitude Mr. Mac brought to the table. If we take that number out, that leaves $63 milion in losses for the remaining 6 operating years, or $10 million per year, in round numbers. That is less than the lease revenue deficit identified by the consultants, supporting the idea that the core operations are financially sound. This is particularly impressive, given that payroll has increased from $22 million in Year 1 to $50.8 million last year, and attendance was in a decline prior to the playoff run of last season.

Although I have not spoken to a Nationwide representative, it is clear that Nationwide Arena, on a cash basis, is not making money. It is certainly holding its own in terms of attracting local events, as a review of the bookings at the Schottenstein Center and Nationwide indicates, but as one events promoter was quoted as saying "You have two "A" class facilities in a "B" class market." True enough -- Columbus is not in the same stratosphere as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc. in attracting top shows or first run events. Obviously, this is one of the reasons that Nationwide is willing to part with the Arena to the County for a substantial discount. However, this simply reinforces the point that the real issue is the Arena, although the Blue Jackets are certainly impacted.

Look at it this way -- the Jackets could (theoretically) negotiate a deal with Nationwide to assume the revenue streams that they do not have access to right now, and be made whole in the short term. However, it would then be Nationwide looking for help from the County and others. If the essential operations of the Blue Jackets were in question, there is no way on Earth that the Jackets could transfer that monetary risk to Nationwide, or anybody else, for that matter.

It's The Arena Distric as well -- Economics Lesson II

While the whole genesis of the Arena District as we now know it will be addressed more fully in the next installment, it bears mention here. The John Glenn School of Public Affairs conducted economic impact analyses of the Blue Jackets, the Arena, and the Arena District on the local economy, underwritten by the CBJ, Nationwide and the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority. While the details of these studies are available on the CBJ website, the essential points are that billions of dollars in new investment, jobs, sales and property values have been created since Nationwide Arena was constructed. These studies support the fact that the Arena drives the development of the District, and the Blue Jackets drive the Arena.

In my interview with him, County Commissioner John O"Grady acknowledged these essential facts, stating:"To me it's pretty simple -- they (the Blue Jackets) drive the Arena, which in turn energizes the Arena District, which permits things like devleopment of the new 500 room hotel for the Convention Center area. It's all interlocked."

As I noted above, more on this in the next installment, but keep it in mind.

This Is Not Phoenix

One of the more alarming aspects to the reactions arising from this issue is the speed with which people were willing to make analogies to the Phoenix Coyotes' situation and tehir bankruptcy. Not even close folks. First, even Jim Balsillie disregards any attempts to bring Columbus into the same discussion bag as Phoenix, stating "They're not going anywhere. The market is too good." Commissioner Gary Bettman similarly refused to take the bait during a press conference at the Stanley Cup Finals, referring to the situation as a "lease issue", and acknowledging the strength of the Columbus market.

Secondly, while nobody wants to minimize the $80 million in losses that the McConnells have faced, we aren't in the same league as Phoenix. Since becoming involved with the franchise in 2001, Jerry Moyes has poured $300 million into the club, which showed losses of over $36 million per year in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Phoenix is not a strong market, and the surrounding Westgate City development has not taken off nearly as well as the Arena District.

Finally, remember that nobody from the Blue Jackets has raised the issue of moving the franchise. All of that discussion was in response to media queries. From J.P. McConnell to Mike Priest to Greg Kirstein -- they are unanimous in noting that they have started this whole process precisely to avoid ever having to address the issue of moving. 'Nuff said on this one.

Sin Tax Mythology

Much of the visceral reaction to the disclosure of CBJ attempts to get a "sin tax" increase in Franklin County stemmed from the perception that the CBJ were seeking to "end run" the citizens and get a tax levied without a vote. While one can certainly understand some institutional reticence to the concept of a vote, in light of the results in 1997, this entire issue was overblown.

First, in my opinion, a fundamental problem with the whole issue was the timing and manner of the communciations about the Blue Jackets issues and the scattered initial response. Kirstein notes (and O'Grady confirms) that the Blue Jackets and Nationwide had been in discussions for a couple of months on the "sin tax" concept, which was modeled on the precise funding mechanism used in Cleveland for the stadiums there. Where the spin got out of control was on the "vote/no vote" issue. The state legislation being contemplated would have authorized the imposition of a tax without a vote, but did not require that imposition. The County Commissioners would have been free to submit a tax to the voters, if they chose to do so. That fact was lost in the shuffle of the initial response, as alcohol and tobacco lobbying interests caught wind of the effort and put pressure to bear at the State House. The legislators, in turn, asked for an unequivocal show of support from the County. With new taxes being as popular as the plague, particularly in this economy, such a show of support was not forthcoming, and the "sin tax" was DOA.

In the end, while the CBJ and Nationwide were diligent in dong their homework, in terms of the economic impacts and review of operations, there just was insufficient time to develop a comprehensive communication plan that would have permitted a smoother roll-out of the concept, and perhaps more favorable public response.

The County Response

Another source of irritation to the hockey faithful was the perceived tepid interest displayed by County Commissioners in the immediate aftermath of the team disclosures. Commisioners Brown and O'Grady both issued written statements in response to public inquiries that were, at best, tepid, and at worst discouraging to those hoping for some definitive show of support. In light of these responses, I submitted interview requests to all three commissioners. I received a prompt reply from Brittany Thompson, Public Affairs Officer for the comissioners, and she arranged the interview with Commissioner O'Grady.

In the course of the interview, it became apparent that Commissioner O'Grady was much more engaged in the issue, and more definitive in his approach, than his written statement would lead one to believe. After reviewing the history of the recent discussions with the Jackets and Nationwide, and noting that there was "no enthusiasm" for a "sin tax increase" to support the Arena issues, he unequivocally stated that "we will get it fixed." He noted that there were many potential approaches that could potentiallyl be involved, and that the County Adminsitrator had been directed to investigate the issue and potential resolutions.

O'Grady also advised that he had met informally with some Nationwide representatives the day prior to our interview, and had urged the Blue Jackets and Nationwide to get together first and discuss some of their options, and come back to the County with more of their ideas.

O'Grady acknowledged that the emergence of this issue was not terribly surprising to him, noting that he was familiar with the nature of the agreement and that "we were bound to end up in this spot."

I then asked O'Grady if he agreed with Kirstein's call for a "public/private" partnership to engineer a solution to the deal, and noted that the overwhelming majority of arenas have public support. I also noted the other "public/private partnerships" touted by the Commissioners, including a potential expanded equestrian facility for the Quarter Horse Congress, Huntington Park, and similar undertakings. While perhaps falling short of an enthusiastic embrace of the concept, he did note that he was in favor of "the right kind of public/private partnership". He agreed that the Blue Jackets were "too important" to lose, and expressed his desire to be part of the solution. He is convinced that a solution can be found that will not require an increase in any taxes.

So, even though details are out of reach at this point, I came away with a much more positive view of the County willingness to be a participant in a solution to the issue, and was pleased to see that initial steps had been taken to investigate those solutions.

Where We Are, And Where We Aren't

In the final analysis, here is my take on where things stand right now:

  • The McConnells are taking some serious financial hits, which need to be rectified
  • The financial shortfalls are not the result of basic operational flaws or a bad local market
  • The crux of the current situation is the Nationwide Arena lease , and the revenue streams the club cannot access.
  • The Blue Jackets and Nationwide Arena are the keys to the Arena District, which is the single biggeset economic engine in Columbus. To permit that to go away would be economic and political suicide for the parties in charge.
  • The County is interested in participating in a solution, but does not want to increase taxes
  • The Blue Jackets are not playing the "we are moving" card, and have no motivation to do so, as long as progress is being made.
  • Comparisons between this issue and the Phoenix situation are ludicrous.
  • Given the success of the Arena District, public participation is far more palatable than in 1997, when the success of such an endeaver was doubted.

I am a firm believer that progress will be made and that in the long run, this will be viewed as a minor blip in the franchise history. There is too much at stake economically to ignore the problem, and we have some big hitters paying attention to it.

Next Up: How We Got Here, or Not Liking The Bed We Made

Fire away!!!

Congratulations Steve & Rick!!!!

Unless you were vacationing in Antarctica this evening, or whiling away the time in a Sensory Deprivation Chamber, you have heard that Steve Mason was named the winner of the Calder Trophy tonight, signifying his status as Rookie of the Year in the NHL. He also was named to the All-Rookie Team, and to the Second Team All-NHL squad.

Captain Rick Nash was also honored as the winner of the NHL Foundation Award, in recognition of the significant amount of charitable and community initiatives with which he is involved.

These two awards now join the Rocket Richard Trophy shared by Nash, Iginla and Kovalchuk on the CBJ mantle. Tonight provided some great recognition for Mason, Nash and the CBJ as a whole.

Just a week until the draft, then another week until free agency. How quickly can you spell Bouwmeister?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Almost there . . .

Beginning to feel like the teaser for a new TV series here, but this has been a slow and more complex process than I thought, combined with an extraordinarily busy time at work. Lots of reading, lots of research, but I think I now have a fairly balanced pool of information to present.

Thanks for your patience. Keep your eyes open tomorrow.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Balsillie Foiled Again

It appears that Hamilton will have to wait a bit longer for an NHL franchise. Gary Bettman outmaneuvered Jim Balsillie in the United States Bankruptcy Court, with Judge Redfield Baum ruling tonight that there is insufficient time to adequately address the complicated legal issues attendant to a franchise move before Balsillie's self-imposed June 29 deadline.

While the NHL wins this round in Court, the basis for the victory is tenuous, at best. Had Balsillie allowed for some additional time, or had a few of the legal hurdles been cleared in advance, a different result might have emerged. However, for now it appears that Phoenix will retain the Coyotes for one more season.

I have not yet laid my hands on the complete ruling, but will provide more detail when I do. Find the THN story

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tardy -- But With A Note . . .

OK, so I have not lived up to my targeted publication dates for the Arena discussion pieces. Guilty . . .with an explanation.

In the course of my researching, I have run across some additional sources of information that have taken some time to track down, but which are important to fleshing out the full picture. Bear with me . . . I am working on it. More will be revealed.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Arena Manifesto -- Prologue

I have now completed my discussions with Greg Kirstein, Sr.Vice President and General Counsel for the Blue Jackets, reviewed data furnished by both Greg and VP of Public Relations Todd Sharrock, and have done some independent review of data, assembled my thoughts, and now tackle the task of putting some perspective and context on the Nationwide Arena situation, the impact on the Blue Jackets, the efforts undertaken to date and options going forward. Quite a task, and far more than can be handled in a single post. So, this is the Prologue of sorts for what I have coming.

Rather than just providing a rather sterile recitation of facts and data, I want to try and weave a more complex tapestry, bringing history, experience, opinion and even some emotion into the picture, where appropriate. After all, this is my blog, not the N.Y. Times. I will be careful to attribute facts and opinions as appropriate.

By way of full disclosure, I bring a lot of different experience to bear on these issues, so you should know where I am coming from. As is obvious, I am a huge Blue Jacket fan -- Day 1 season ticket holder, involved in the Jacket Backers, attend a few away games per year, etc. I am also a big hockey fan in general -- few sporting events provide as much speed, skill and excitement as a hockey game. I am not a native to Columbus, or Ohio for that matter, having moved here 15 years ago from Northern California. While there, I lived through a number of franchises that left (California Golden Seals, Oakland Raiders), some that came (San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Raiders, Oakland A's), some on the brink of being sold and moving (S.F. Giants, Oakland A's) and all who had numerous stadium and Arena battles, some of which are ongoing. I also practiced law for the better part of 20 years, and spent a lot of time negotiating with government officials at all levels.

So, I bring a lot of "stuff" to the table when it comes to issues involving professional sports teams. I watched a bad S.F. 49ers team for years before they started piling up Super Bowls. I went to a few pathetic Seals games, and suffered through equally pathetic San Jose Sharks years (few realize that the Sharks still hold the NHL record for most losses in a season -- 71). So I think I have earned my scars and have the basis to offer some opinions.

Agree, disagree as you will. My primary goal is to get people to look at this rationally, consider all of the facts, and not react in a knee-jerk manner. In general, I will examine in separate installments where we are today, how we got here, and where things are likely to proceed down the line.

I call this "The Arena Manifesto" advisedly. Greg Kirstein went to great lengths to note that this is first and foremost an Arena issue, not a Blue Jackets issue, and I am inclined to agree. While there is certainly significant fallout that impacts the Jackets, and provides impetus for them to drive the solution, it is the fundamental structure of Arena ownership and operation that is the key here.

So, sit back, relax, and prepare to give me your best shots. My Kevlar vest is back from the cleaners, so I am good to go. Hoping to have Installment One ready for publication tomorrow, Installment Two on Thursday and Installment Three on Saturday.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

More Arena News On The Way

As many of you may have heard, the Blue Jackets held a Roundtable last night for members of the blogging community that regularly cover the CBJ.

While I was tied up in meetings, and did not become aware of the invitation until the event was underway, the Blue Jackets have come to the rescue. Todd Sharrock, VP of Public Relations, was kind enough to arrange for me to speak with Senior VP/General Counsel Greg Kirstein about the issues relating to the Arena, the lease and related information.

Greg and I spoke for quite awhile today, and will be concluding our discussions in the morning. I will be posting what I hope will be a fairly comprehensive look at the situation as soon as we wrap up our discussions and I have the chance to formulate a coherent piece. I want to be sure that we discuss all of the relevant points before putting a piece together.

Stay tuned. . .