NHL, Balsillie spar in court over bids for Coyotes

Wed Sep 2, 2009 5:51pm EDT
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By Phil Wahba and Tim Gaynor

NEW YORK/PHOENIX (Reuters) - The National Hockey League and Canadian billionaire James Balsillie battled in court Wednesday, arguing over whether Balsillie's bid for the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes team should be included in an auction set for next week.

Balsillie, the co-chief executive of Research in Motion Ltd, offered to pay $212.5 million for the money-losing Coyotes in May when the team filed for bankruptcy protection, on condition that he be allowed to move the franchise to the Canadian province of Ontario.

Judge Redfield Baum of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Phoenix could decide as soon as Wednesday whether to include Balsillie's bid over the NHL's wishes. However, attorneys in court said a decision is more likely to come later in the week because the judge asked for a complete set of depositions to review.

"I'm reluctant to discourage anybody from making a bid," Baum said at a hearing attended by Balsillie and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

In a typical bankruptcy auction, a judge tries to encourage many bids in an effort to recover as much money as possible for creditors.

The judge asked early in the hearing whether a sports league had ever been forced to accept an owner it had rejected. Balsillie's attorney said this would be a first.

A lawyer for Balsillie questioned the validity of NHL's bid as the league is also a creditor and controlling the owner approval process.

"When you have got a conflict of interest, you can't be the judge and jury," Susan Freeman told the court.   Continued...

<p>Research In Motion Co-Chief Executive Officer Jim Balsillie addresses the audience about 'Entrepreneurship and Innovation' during the National Summit at the Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan June 17, 2009. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook</p>