TORONTO — Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie is looking to buy the financially ailing Phoenix Coyotes and bring them to Southern Ontario.
The co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion says his US$212.5-million offer is conditional on moving the Coyotes north of the border.
“The current team ownership asked that I table an offer to purchase the Coyotes and significant discussions resulted in an offer that is in the best interests of the franchise, the NHL, and the great hockey fans of Canada and Southern Ontario,” Balsillie said in a statement Tuesday.
“I am excited to move closer to bringing an NHL franchise to what I believe is one of the best un-served hockey markets in the world — Southern Ontario. A market with devoted hockey fans, a rich hockey history, a growing and diversified economy and a population of more than seven million people.”
Balsillie’s statement did not specify which city in Southern Ontario he was planning to relocate the Coyotes.
It was a day of rapid developments surrounding the hockey team in the desert, with the league appearing to step in for the current management.
The Coyotes filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Tuesday. The filing included the proposed sale of the franchise to PSE Sports & Entertainment, LP, a Delaware limited partnership, which would move the franchise to Southern Ontario.
“Extensive efforts have been undertaken to sell the team, or attract additional investors, who would keep the team in Glendale,” Jerry Moyes, the Coyotes chief executive officer, said in a statement announcing the Chapter 11 filing. “Creating a process under the supervision of a judge assures that anyone wishing to purchase the team will have the opportunity to bid.
“Likewise, the City of Glendale, which has been very co-operative with efforts to keep the team in Glendale, will be able to provide potential buyers assurances of the city’s willingness to offer incentives to keep the team as a tenant in the Jobing.com arena, the lease for which is subject to rejection in bankruptcy. The process assures that the identities of the new owner and the team’s location will be known by June 30, 2009, thus enabling the NHL to include the team in its 2009-10 schedule.”
At the request of the Coyotes owner, Balsillie said he has also agreed to provide US$17 million in bridge financing to allow the franchise to keep going in advance of the sale.
Balsillie’s offer does not guarantee that the Coyotes will move.
“If others want to come in and there’s an offer that is deemed better by the courts, then ultimately that would be a court decision,” said Steve Roman, a spokesman for Moyes. “As I understand it, the hope and the plan is that all of this would be dealt with by June 30, 2009. You have a person who has a purchase agreement, but at the same time there could be other players who want to get involved.”
The NHL said it was reviewing the events surrounding the Coyotes,
“We have just become aware of today’s Bankruptcy Court filing purportedly made on behalf of the Phoenix Coyotes,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. “We are investigating the circumstances surrounding the petition, including the propriety of its filing. We have removed Jerry Moyes from all positions of authority to act for or on behalf of the club.
“The league will appear and proceed before the Bankruptcy Court in the best interests of all of the club’s constituencies, including its fans in Arizona and the league’s 29 other member clubs.”
In March, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the financially struggling Coyotes were actively seeking investors or possibly new ownership, but reiterated that the team won’t be moved.
“Our goal is to bring in new capital and make this franchise solvent,” Bettman said on March 26 while attending a Coyotes home game. “That’s our direction, and at this point moving the franchise elsewhere is not on the table.”
Balsillie made a well-publicized attempt to purchase and move the Nashville Predators to Hamilton in the spring of 2007. The deal fell through, with speculation that some in the NHL did not like Balsillie’s insistence that the team be moved to Canada.
But he reportedly has kept angling for a team of his own. The 48-year-old Balsillie is a huge hockey buff who still plays weekly — he’s a right-winger.
There was confusion last week about the Coyotes with a spokesman for the city of Glendale, where their arena is located, saying the league was in charge of the team.
Coyotes president Doug Moss rejected that report. The league declined comment.
Citing Glendale records, the Arizona Republic reported that the Coyotes stopped paying the city of Glendale rent, parking fees and most of its security costs at Jobing.com Arena in August. The paper also said the city was paid nearly US$351,000 for past rent on Feb. 25, the day after the NHL agreed to loan the team an unspecified amount.
As part of the loan agreement, the league had the right to take over the franchise if the loan was not paid, the paper said.
The NHL has had little to say about selling or moving teams although the issue resurfaced recently with news that deputy commissioner Bill Daly met with a group interested in putting a second team in the Toronto area.
“There is no consideration of bringing a second franchise to Toronto. We have no intention to expand in the foreseeable future, and there is no desire to relocate any of our existing franchises,” the league said in a statement when asked about that meeting.
Balsillie is looking for help in his bid to establish a seventh Canadian NHL team. He’s asking fans who want to see a seventh NHL franchise in Canada to make their voices heard. He’s asking fans to log on to www.makeitseven.ca to add their voices to his bid.
“It’s an exciting time for professional hockey in Southern Ontario and it has nothing to do with the playoffs,” the website says.
Should the Coyotes end up in Canada, it will be a homecoming of sorts. The franchise was the Winnipeg Jets from 1979 to 1996.