TORONTO (Reuters) - NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Jim Balsillie appeared to be heading for another showdown on Wednesday over the BlackBerry billionaire’s brash attempt to purchase the cash-strapped Phoenix Coyotes.
A day after the Coyotes filed bankruptcy papers and Balsillie tabled a $212.5 million offer to buy the struggling franchise and move it to Southern Ontario, Bettman was throwing up roadblocks.
Speaking on a panel on the “The Future of Sports” hosted by the Wall Street Journal, Bettman said he doubted Balsillie would gain approval from league owners to purchase the team and that the league planned to keep the floundering franchise in Phoenix.
According to a report in the Toronto Globe and Mail, the Coyotes are expected to lose between $25 and $35-million this year and have lost more than $200-million since 2001.
The Coyotes have survived with the help of the league’s revenue-sharing scheme and more recently on advances and loans from the NHL.
”We believe (it) can, with new ownership and with the accommodation that the city of Glendale is prepared to make, can be a success,“ said Bettman. ”We generally avoid relocating a franchise unless you absolutely have to. When a franchise is in trouble you try to fix the problems.
“We fix the problems we don’t run out on cities.”
It marks the third time Balsillie and Bettman have clashed over the Research in Motion (RIM) chief’s efforts to acquire an NHL franchise.
Balsillie has made attempts to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins then the Nashville Predators but saw the deal scuttled when it became clear he planned to move the Predators to Hamilton, Ontario and brazenly started selling season ticket packages, a move that incurred Bettman’s wrath.
”In the past, selling tickets in a place where we don’t have a franchise, or a franchise he didn’t own, interaction he’s had with a variety of our owners, I don’t know whether or not he could get approved (for NHL ownership),“ said Bettman. ”This is not about whether or not we want a franchise in Southern Ontario.
”This is not whether or not Mr. Balsillie would make a suitable owner that the owners would approve.
“This is about the league rules.”
The Phoenix Coyotes filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in federal bankruptcy court in Arizona on Tuesday.
The bankruptcy filing included a proposed sale of the franchise to Balsillie leading Bettman to speculate that Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes and the BlackBerry chief were attempting to get around NHL rules.
“If this is, in effect, a tactic to try to circumvent the rules it’s something we’ll obviously have to deal with,” said Bettman. “This is more about the tactic and I think a challenge to league rules than it is about the economic condition of the club.”
A passionate hockey fan, who regularly plays in pickup games at a local arena near RIM’s Waterloo, Ontario, headquarters, Balsillie has made no attempts to disguise his plans and makes no apologies for his efforts to bring a team to a hockey market he claims is under-served.
Balsillie called for Canadian fans who want to see a seventh NHL franchise in Canada to make their voices heard.
“We want those Canadian voices who want a seventh NHL team in Canada to be heard throughout the North American NHL market,” said Balsillie in a statement.
Additional reporting Paul Thomasch in New York; Editing by Justin Palmer