Canadian hockey fans have to love Jim Balsillies insistent enthusiasm for buying an NHL franchise and moving it north even if the league itself is not amused. Balsillie has tabled a US$212.5-million offer to buy the Phoenix Coyotes as part of that teams Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing yesterday, with the intention of setting up shop in an undisclosed location in southwestern Ontario. That offer is a US$70-million premium on what the franchise was worth back in November, according to Forbes magazine, and it can only have slipped in value since then.
But thats not good enough for NHL brass. The league quickly stripped ownership powers from current Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes, who bought the team in 2001 for US$127 million. Its a move that seems designed to thwart Balsillies dream again. We are investigating the circumstances surrounding the petition, including the propriety of its filing, said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly in a statement. 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.
The last time Balsillie tried to take over a team he was also rebuffed, with many speculating the NHL didnt want the brash co-CEO of Research In Motion or his desire to move a team to Canada. That was May 2007 and Balsillie offered US$238 million for the Nashville Predators. A week later he launched a season-ticket drive in Ontario and reactivated a deal that gave him exclusive rights to negotiate a lease agreement at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. The whole thing was dissolved a month later when Predators owner Craig Leipold sold the franchise to California businessman Boots Del Biaggio III for almost US$50 million less. Yes, he actually took less money in order to avoid selling to Balsillie.
A year earlier, Balsillie tried to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins for US$175 million, but that didnt pan out either and Balsillie withdrew later that year.
Now hes back with a new offer and a new web site (www.makeitseven.ca) to publicize his efforts. Will it work? The NHL seems determined to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix despite the fact that the franchise loses millions every year and has little hope of ever making money. A team in southern Ontario, though, would be a pretty easy sell once Balsillie throws enough money at both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres for intruding on their territory.
I am excited to move closer to bringing an NHL franchise to what I believe is one of the best unserved hockey markets in the world Southern Ontario, Balsillie said in a statement. A market with devoted hockey fans, a rich hockey history, a growing and diversified economy and a population of more than seven million people.
Another offer for the Coyotes could come in while the team is in bankruptcy protection, but given the lousy economy, a better offer seems unlikely. Phoenix is a drain on the league, which has been lending it money to pay its bills this year, and the players dont like it either, because it lowers overall revenues and that helps lower their salaries.
Balsillie has also agreed to provide $17 million in financing to keep the franchise afloat until a sale is complete, which is supposed to be finalized June 30 so that the team, wherever it may be, can play in the 2009-10 season.
Ultimately, a decision to let Balsillie join the NHL fraternity might come down to what the board of governors thinks and they just might be sick and tired of supporting a team that has no hope of being a success. But dont for a second underestimate the power of NHL czar Gary Bettmans ego. He doesnt like Balsillies pressure tactics, or the fact that his dream of expanding hockey into the American south is blowing up in his face.
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