May 27, 2009 / 6:56 PM / in 9 years

RIM CEO Balsillie threatens to ax NHL Coyotes deal

PHOENIX/NEW YORK (Reuters) - The co-chief executive officer of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd has threatened to pull his offer to buy the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes should a deal for the hockey team’s sale and relocation not be completed by June 29.

<p>Research in Motion co-chief executive Jim Balsillie speaks to the media in Toronto February 5, 2009. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>

RIM’s co-CEO, James Balsillie, set the deadline because neither he “nor any other known entity, will fund another year of significant losses,” a lawyer for Coyotes’ owner Jerry Moyes said in documents filed on Tuesday in federal bankruptcy court in Arizona, arguing for an accelerated sale.

Balsillie, whose personal fortune is about C$3 billion ($2.69 billion), according to court filings, made a $212.5 million offer for the National Hockey League’s money-losing Coyotes in May when the team filed for bankruptcy protection, contingent on relocating the team to Hamilton, Ontario, a city of 500,000 between Toronto and Buffalo, New York.

U.S. bankruptcy judge Redfield Baum on Wednesday moved up a hearing to determine who controls the hockey team -- a point of contention between the NHL and Moyes -- to June 9 from June 22, which is now the tentative date for the team’s auction.

“It’s a good ruling. Having a decision on the relocation issue sooner rather than later is certainly a benefit,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told reporters outside the court.

The Coyotes have never made a profit since moving to Arizona in 1996 and lost a combined $73 million from 2005 and 2008, according to court documents.

Despite Balsillie’s bid, NHL officials have said the league is committed to keeping the team -- valued last October by Forbes magazine at a league-low $142 million -- in Phoenix.

The NHL has argued the hockey team could not be relocated in time for the 2009-10 hockey season, citing logistical and scheduling problems.

A lawyer for Balsillie, in a court filing, pointed to a letter from a lawyer for the NHL in 2007, when Balsillie was trying to buy the Nashville Predators and relocate that team to Hamilton, saying a team’s move could be done quickly.

Baum also ruled on Wednesday to keep the current owners in charge of the Coyotes, with three executives of the current ownership group, led by Moyes, managing the team’s day-to-day operations.

But Moyes’ group and the NHL will also each appoint one person as a “point person” to look at the team’s finances every week. If either of these two point persons disagrees on something, the matter can be brought to the court.

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, additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Chicago, editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Andre Grenon

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