Coyotes court auction ends without a ruling

Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie

Found at CTV website:

The court auction for the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes NHL team has concluded its final day with little indication of how the judge overseeing it may rule.

Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie has been trying to buy the Coyotes for the past four months. An auction for the team, which is being overseen by Judge Redfield T. Baum, wrapped up on Friday after two days of hearings.

At the conclusion of Friday’s hearing Baum said he would hand down his decision at a later date, but didn’t say when that might be.

Balsillie has an offer on the table, as does the NHL, and both adjusted their offers as the clock ticked down during the hearing.

The co-CEO of Research in Motion Ltd., the Ontario firm that makes the ubiquitous BlackBerry smartphone, has offered to buy the Coyotes for US$242.5 million, so long as the team can be moved to Hamilton, Ont.

The league has offered $140 million for temporary ownership, with plans to sell the team outside of bankruptcy.

Balisille improved his offer in the final moments with a guarantee that Glendale, the city where the team now plays, would get $50 million. He also removed the Sept. 21 deadline for a deal, from his offer.

The NHL agreed that Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes and managing partner Wayne Gretzky, should take a $14 million payout. In its original deal, the NHL offered nothing to Moyes.

However, Baum has said it’s possible he will reject both offers, resulting in no sale, and that any successful buyer will have to satisfy several legal criteria.

The NHL claims Balsillie is ineligible to bid on the team since the league’s board of governors rejected his application for ownership by a margin of 26-0.

The main opponent to Balsillie’s ownership bid is NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. He took the stand Friday for about 40 minutes, defending his argument that the league is best positioned to take over ownership of the team.

While on the stand, Bettman dismissed the claim he put the NHL in a conflict of interest by secretly plotting to buy the team before the league rejected his offer. Bettman said the NHL didn’t decide to put an offer together until about 24 hours before they submitted it.

Balsillie had also been expected to take the stand Friday, but the league’s lawyers waived their right to cross-examination.

Tony Clark, the lawyer representing the NHL, said if Baum rejects both bids the league will seek a ruling allowing it to take control of the team to prepare for a resale.

A third offer for the team — worth $148 million and led by Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox and Bulls — was scrapped in late August.

Balsillie’s legal team has urged the judge to overturn the NHL governors’ decision to reject him as an owner. They’ve also asked that the ruling allow the team to be relocated without the league’s permission.

Jeffrey Kessler, one of Balsillie lawyers, has argued the team would be more successful in Hamilton, and the judge should make his decision accordingly.

NHL lawyer Tony Clark has asked whether Balsillie has the right to be an owner, underscoring that Balisllie’s lawyers had referred to a “secret conspiracy” by the Toronto Maple Leafs to keep a team out of Hamilton.