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Balsillie directs the troops in new media crusade Add to ...

dowbboy@shaw.ca

Has Jim Balsillie lifted something from Barack Obama's successful run for the White House last year?

Obama famously engaged every level of the new media to gather support, donations and momentum against the forces of conventional media on his way to becoming the first black man to win the U.S. presidency.

In his quest to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes and move them to Hamilton, Research In Motion co-founder Balsillie is also making full use of new media to rally Canadians to his cause of a seventh NHL franchise in this country.

Speaking Wednesday on Prime Time Sports with host Bob McCown, Balsillie was almost euphoric over the multimedia revolution he's unleashing on the stolid NHL culture.

"Canada hockey nation has spoken," Balsillie proclaimed. "It's an important force, and it's going to called into action real soon. We're 125,000 and counting ... let's make it a quarter-million. ... If we all stick together, it's inevitable."

At the heart of Balsillie's army is unconventional tools. "We did use digital media," Balsillie told McCown.

Balsillie's makeitseven.ca website is just the beginning of an all-out attack on the NHL's definition of procedures and processes. The strategies involving Facebook, Twitter and texting techniques that made Obama independent of public funding for his historic campaign have all been employed in the effort to repatriate the former Winnipeg Jets to Canada.

"I'm just so, so proud of the groundswell of support," Balsillie said. "That's an important part to show the viability [of Southern Ontario as an NHL market]"

Which makes the perpetually optimistic business tycoon downright giddy about the likelihood of his full-frontal gambit winning the day.

"[Tuesday]was a very good day because the courts say that's where it will be settled," Balsillie said. "For me, this is not about personality at all ... I can assure you it's not one synapse of what's going on here. ... It's fun to make it about personalities [in the media] but personality has nothing to do with this whatsoever."

For now, Balsillie hasn't used his groundswell of support to solicit money - as Obama's campaign did in 2008. But if he's right about the inevitability of his movement in an Arizona bankruptcy court against the suits of the NHL, he might soon be sending out request forms for season tickets to those who've signed up via his new media crusade.

Rocky assessment

"Quite frankly, I don't believe people know what Versus is, and I still don't know what they do," Chicago Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz told Time.com.

Well, Usual Suspects finally has something in common with a billionaire.

Wirtz was uncharacteristically frank for an NHL owner, given that commissioner Gary Bettman views free speech among owners as akin to a communicable disease.

But with the NHL's signature playoff series featuring Alex Ovechkin versus Sidney Crosby (oops, the Washington Capitals versus Pittsburgh Penguins) largely offloaded to U.S. cable channel Versus and local TV, Wirtz was stating the obvious for many in the United States: While NBC's numbers are showing an up-tick, the Crosby-Ovechkin spectacle on Versus drew fewer viewers than a Batman episode on the Cartoon Network (1.5 million viewers), and a Reba rerun on Lifetime (930,000).

It also splits the market in the cities where the series is being played. While the NBC Chicago affiliate scored big numbers in the City of the Big Shoulders with Game 1 of the Detroit Red Wings-Blackhawks series, the second-game market was lower on a combination of Versus and local TV.

Time.com points out a few reasons why our national sport can't catch a break down south: Versus is Channel 603 on the satellite DirecTV; on Time Warner Cable's Los Angeles system, it's Channel 267; in New York, Cablevision puts Versus on 146; and in Dallas, Versus gets prime position on 254.

Forty million of the 115 million television households in the United States do not even get Versus. But it's guaranteed money through 2011 for the league, which was willing to gamble on a no-rights deal with NBC but not with ESPN.

Sources tell Usual Suspects that Wirtz's crankiness about Versus could quickly be added to the list of Bettman's sins should his Phoenix strategy fall apart.

It could be worse.

The Orlando Magic, playing in the NBA Eastern Conference final, were outdrawn in their home market by the American Idol finale. And while Adam Lambert got waxed in the finale, the Magic beat the heavily favoured Cleveland Cavaliers.

Channel Hopping

Just wondering, but isn't it time PETA looked into Marv Albert's hairpiece? The legendary bingo caller for TNT and other networks seems to have trapped something against its will on his forehead. ... And separated at birth: TSN anchor James Duthie and Saturday Night Live's Seth Myers.

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