NHL, Balsillie spar in court over bids for Coyotes

Wed Sep 2, 2009 9:05pm 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 on 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.

But Balsillie and the NHL, who locked horns both inside and outside the courtroom, will have to wait at least a few more days before finding out how the judge rules.

Judge Redfield Baum of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Phoenix asked both parties to send briefs to Flagstaff, Arizona, for him to review over the long Labor Day weekend. Baum did not specify when he would make his decision.

The judge had called the hearing to decide whether to include Balsillie's bid in an auction for the Coyotes scheduled for September 10 over the wishes of the NHL and team owners.

"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.   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>