Sharks co-owner and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Kevin Compton has seemingly offered his support of Jim Balsille's three-year bid to purchase an NHL franchise, with the eventual intention of moving that team to Southern Ontario.
Compton is on a five member committee of San Jose Sports and Entertainment Enterprises, a list that consists of CEO Greg Jamison, Tom McEnery, Gregory Reyes, and Brent Jones. He has been a partner of Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers since 1990, investing heavily in the enterprise software and telecommunications industries, as well as serving on the board of several companies which include, but are not limited to, Citrix Systems, Verisign, and Kodiak Networks.
Compton said Research-in-Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie should be an NHL owner and called thefiasco a "joke." Compton said, "Jim loves hockey. Jim's got a lot of money. Jim's got a lot of passion." Compton said he was "100%" certain Balsillie will be an NHL owner in the future. When asked why the owners were locking out Balsillie, he said he did not know. He added, "Owners aren't."
Meanwhile, Compton said that the NHLPA turmoil reflected the distance between older players who are hardline labor advocates and younger players, who are paid well and don't always understand what the union does. He added, "They (the union) have to figure out a way to bring value to the young players." He added that they have not done a good enough job explaining what the union does for them. On the news that Don Fehr will be assisting the NHLPA, Compton said, "I've had better days than when I read that." He described Bettman negotiating with Don Fehr as something that would make "good television."
The San Jose Sharks joined in the league-wide unanimous vote against Jim Balsillie's bid for ownership this summer. Compton's comments to Sports Business Daily signal that either he has changed his opinion on the ' ability to become financially viable, was never in agreement with the Sharks final decision to begin with, or that overwhelming pressure from the league office influenced their decision to join the 25 other owners who took part in this process. And who's to say that pressure was only felt in San Jose? Implying that the league's owners weren't the ones locking out Jim Balsillie is a pretty damning statement.
In a recent interview with Canadian magazine MacLean's, Bettman stated (in regards to Balsillie), "The owners decided they didn’t want him as a partner," eventually going on to say, "It’s not something that I foresee any time soon." The contrast between Bettman's and Compton's statements seems to indicate there may be more at play than just a candid interview-- Compton's investment in the telecommunications industry raises a flag, as Kodiak Networks signed a global licensing agreement with Research In Motion during January of 2007 for the Push-to-Talk technology to be used on Blackberry cellular phones. With Compton serving on the board of Kodiak Networks, and Jim Balsillie the co-CEO of RIM (developers of the Blackberry), it is possible that they have formed an amicable business relationship that may have led to these comments.
So where does that leave us? It is uncertain whether or not the views shared by Compton represent anything close to a substantial opinion amongst the league owners, but for a group that was supposedly ironclad in their dissatisfaction with how Balsillie attempted to bull his way into the league, it would be hard to argue that this is not a symbolic break in the ranks. And an unprecedented one at that.
With the NHLPA currently in the midst of an ongoing saga of their own in search of something that vaguely resembles stability, and a co-owner of one of the league's franchises contradicting statements made by the Commissioner, you have to wonder just how the upcoming CBA negotiations are going to shake out when the agreement expires in 2011.
With Donald Fehr in the mix, it's a long shot to think they'll be anything other than a firestorm.