Balsillie says NHL will be profitable in Hamilton

Unlike in Phoenix, an NHL team will be immediately profitable in Hamilton, says Jim Balsillie.

Research in Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie arrives at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg on Tuesday to speak with business students at the Asper School of Business.

Unlike in Phoenix, an NHL team will be immediately profitable in Hamilton, says Jim Balsillie.

The co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion made his assertion in a relocation application filed to the league late Monday, the latest step in his campaign to move the Phoenix Coyotes to southern Ontario.

The NHL, which wants to keep the franchise in suburban Glendale, is fighting Balsillie’s US$212.5-million bid to buy the team in bankruptcy court and move them to Canada.

They’ll argue their cases next Tuesday in court. The NHL claims majority owner Jerry Moyes did not have authority to file for bankruptcy because the league has controlled the team since November, 2008.

Balsillie hired former Canadian Football League commissioner Tom Wright to author the relocation application. Since he stepped down as head of the CFL in 2006, Wright has remained active in the business of sports marketing and brand management.

“Frankly, I am a by-the-rules kind of guy,” Wright said Tuesday in a conference call. “The submission we’ve made to the NHL is compliant with their bylaws and rules and regulations and it speaks for itself.”

Balsillie would not comment on his application Tuesday while attending a University of Manitoba event in Winnipeg. He steadfastly refused to answer questions about hockey despite repeated attempts by reporters.

“Come on guys,” Balsillie said after one media question, looking to students to rescue him with a business-related query.

In his application to the NHL, Balsillie says he’s willing to sustain financial losses in the NHL team’s first years of operation in Hamilton, but doesn’t think he will based on market size, fan and city support and an NHL-sized arena in Copps Coliseum.

Balsillie and the City of Hamilton have agreed on a 20-year lease for Copps with the option of extending it up to 32 years, according to the document.

“There’s every indication and prospective that the team will actually be profitable,” Wright said. “In the event that it’s not, Mr. Balsillie has expressed his willingness and his ability to cover any of those losses.”

Based on statistics and information provided by Moyes, Wright says the Coyotes have never made a profit in 13 years since moving from Winnipeg and financial losses since then total more than US$316 million.

“The club itself has done its own financial projections,“ Wright said. ”Despite aggressive and optimistic assumptions, including the almost doubling of ticket prices when attendance is anticipated to increase by over 20 per cent, even then, over the next five years, the club is projected to lose in excess of 40 million dollars.

“The information and evidence is quite compelling that the franchise is not successful and financially viable in Phoenix. Clearly it has every opportunity to be successful here.”

The application is for relocation for the 2009-10 season. Balsillie’s offer to buy the team expires at the end of June.

In a separate motion filed recently, Balsillie has said he’s willing to own the team for one year in Phoenix if NHL scheduling is an impediment to transfer, but financial losses would have to be negotiated with the league.

Wright says there was no requirement under NHL rules that the relocation application address the impact a team moving to southern Ontario would have on the Toronto Maple Leafs or Buffalo Sabres.

Wright hadn’t received a response from the NHL on Tuesday afternoon. Friday is the deadline for filing motions ahead of next Tuesday’s court hearing in Phoenix.

A chronological look at Jim Balsillie’s bid to buy the Phoenix Coyotes

• May 5 — The Phoenix Coyotes file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Jim Balsillie, the co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, makes a US$212.5-million offer to buy the Coyotes, conditional on moving the NHL club to Southern Ontario. He goes public with his bid to bring a seventh NHL franchise in Canada by asking the public to sign onto his website www.makeitseven.ca.

• May 7 — The NHL says it has controlled the Phoenix Coyotes since November, 2008, and that majority owner Jerry Moyes wasn’t authorized to place the team into bankruptcy. The league says discussions are underway with a possible ownership group that includes Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls.

• May 11 — In a Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey, 63 per cent of those polled thought another NHL team could thrive in Canada, but only one in three said it was likely Balsillie’s bid to buy the Coyotes and move them would be successful.

• May 13 — NHL calls Balsillie’s attempt to buy and move the Coyotes “a sham,” and contends Moyes can’t complete a sale conditional on a move to southern Ontario because that territory belongs to the league. Also, Hamilton city council unanimously approves a lease deal giving Balsillie until October to bring the team to Copps Coliseum.

• May 14 — Balsillie fires back at the NHL saying it doesn’t matter who controls the Coyotes, the bankrupt team has an obligation to its creditors. Hamilton New Democrat Paul Miller wears a “Hockey Night in Hamilton” T-shirt in the Ontario legislature.

• May 15 — Balsillie announces Labatt Breweries and Home Hardware are on board as corporate sponsors in his bid to bring the Coyotes to southern Ontario.

• May 18 — The NHL gets support from the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball as the three leagues file court documents asking the courts to respect the NHL’s authority regarding ownership transfer and relocation, as the court case could set a legal precedent for how those leagues operate.

• May 19 — U.S. bankruptcy judge Redfield T. Baum orders the NHL and Moyes into mediation to determine who is in charge of the team. He tells both parties to return to court May 27 to give an update and sets a formal hearing date of June 22.

• May 20 — A group headed by Coyotes minority partner John Breslow expresses interest in submitting a bid for the team to keep it in Phoenix after filing a statement in U.S. bankruptcy court in support of the NHL’s bid to block the sale of the Coyotes.

• May 21 — U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York send a letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stating their opposition to moving the Phoenix Coyotes to southern Ontario because of the potential “crippling” effect on the Buffalo Sabres.

• May 25 — Balsillie applies to NHL’s board of governors for transfer of Phoenix Coyotes ownership to him.

• May 26 — Balsillie says his offer to buy the Coyotes expires June 30. He wants to move the club to Hamilton for the 2009-10 season.

• May 27 — U.S. bankruptcy court judge Redfield Baum calls the relocation issue “the 10,000-pound elephant in the room,” moves up the hearing originally scheduled for June 22 to June 9.

• May 29 — Balsillie reveals a $150-million renovation plan for Copps Coliseum. While he’s willing to cover the cost of short-term renovations, he says the City of Hamilton can request infrastructure funds from the federal and provincial governments.

• May 30 — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says his opposition to Balsillie’s bid to move the Coyotes to Hamilton “isn’t personal.” He says he believes the Coyotes can still be financially viable in Arizona.

• June 1 — Balsillie applies to the NHL to relocate Coyotes to Hamilton and also files the application in court. The document is authored by former CFL commissioner Tom Wright.

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