PHOENIX/NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. bankruptcy judge said on Tuesday that the National Hockey League can probably charge the co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion a relocation fee if he moves the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes team to Hamilton, Ontario.
Bankruptcy Judge Redfield Baum said the issue of a potential fee should be settled before deciding on whether the team can be relocated at all. If the fee is too high, the judge said, RIM co-CEO James Balsillie might withdraw his bid and the question would be moot.
Canadian billionaire Balsillie offered to buy the money-losing hockey team for $212.5 million in May when it filed for bankruptcy protection, on condition it be relocated to Hamilton, a city located between Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y.
But Balsillie, and the Coyotes owner, trucking magnate Jerry Moyes, have been facing off in court with the NHL, which has said it wants to keep the franchise in Phoenix by finding a local buyer.
Balsillie's offer is the only formal one submitted so far but the NHL has said there are four potential bidders committed to keeping the team in Arizona.
Balsillie's lawyer told the court the NHL had hinted it could charge as much as $100 million for the right to relocate the team; an amount he called unreasonable.
The NHL is unlikely to negotiate a relocation fee unless its board, made up of the owners of the league's franchises, approve such a move.
"We believe the judge is extremely well informed, and my hope is he comes to the right conclusion," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters.
The case is: in Re: Dewey Ranch Hockey LLC, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Arizona, No. 09-09488.
Reporting by Phil Wahba in New York, and David Schwartz in Phoenix, editing by Leslie Gevirtz