Friday, November 7, 2008

Is this guy for real?

Working in journalism, the number one skill you need to learn pretty quickly is how to identify an agenda. They come at you from all sides, and often times when a reporter gets an "exclusive" it's actually a well-placed leak that served the purposes of whoever the source was.

Why this lesson in journalism 101? Well, it's because of La Presse's scoop this morning that Research in Motion's Jim Balsillie says that the Montreal Canadiens are on the market.

Of course, La Presse business reporter Sophie Cousineau was not interviewing Balsillie with this in mind. The way the information came out - at least the way Cousineau tells it, and I have no reason to doubt her honesty on this - leads me to believe that Balsillie had a major agenda to push here, especially with the whole bit about how he wanted to be photographed with his BlackBerry with the Habs logo on the screen.

Balsillie's lawyer Rich Rodier can deny this all he wants, but why on earth would Cousineau lie about it? As I was writing this, I heard on RDS that Balsillie has written a letter of apology to Gillett while he continues to deny the La Presse story. If he didn't say what Cousineau says he said, why write the letter?

But the main issue I have with this story - or non-story, as it were - is trying to figure out what agenda could Balsillie possibly be pushing by offering up this information? Is he simply trying to elicit a reaction from the league to show them how serious he is in his bid to buy a team, even if it's the most storied team in the league's history? Or is this simply a guy who enjoys seeing his name in the newspaper, and it's been a while since he was the centre of a story?

The stunt he pulled when he started taking ticket orders for the Hamilton Predators was an obvious media campaign meant to ridicule the league into granting him a team, but I have trouble finding the motivation for this ploy. First of all, George Gillett has absolutely no reason to sell this team because it is a cash cow, and the Bell Centre is even more of an asset for Gillett since it has more paying customers pass through its doors for concerts and sporting events than any other building in North America.

The one thing I could see is that the Canadiens value right now probably has never been higher (pegged at $334 million, according to Forbes magazine), so maybe Gillett would want to sell to make the most of his initial $185 million investment for the Bell Centre and 80.1 per cent of the Habs. But I highly doubt that, and I think Balsillie knows it.

In any case, on behalf of Habs fans, I would implore Gillett not to sell the team to anyone, let alone someone like Balsillie. Gillett's greatest asset over the course of his ownership has been his ability to admit that he knows little about hockey, other than knowing that he enjoys watching it. So he's hired good hockey people and allowed those people to do their jobs, with little to no interference from him.

If Balsillie were in charge, I don't think he'd be able to do the same thing.

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