Jim Balsillie confirmed Tuesday that he has offered to pay $212.5 million US to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes on the condition that the bankrupt team relocate to southern Ontario.
Balsillie, 48, made the offer to Coyotes majority owner Jerry Moyes, consenting to buy it if he can move it, presumably to Hamilton or the Kitchener-Waterloo region, where he runs Research In Motion Ltd., maker of the popular BlackBerry mobile device.
Balsillie also agreed to provide $17 million US in bridge financing to keep the Coyotes operating in advance of the proposed sale.
"The current team ownership asked that I table an offer to purchase the Coyotes, and significant discussions resulted in an offer that is in the best interests of the franchise, the NHL and the great hockey fans of Canada and southern Ontario," Balsillie said in a statement.
"I am excited to move closer to bringing an NHL franchise to what I believe is one of the best unserved hockey markets in the world — southern Ontario — a market with devoted hockey fans, a rich hockey history, a growing and diversified economy and a population of more than seven million people."
Team ownership formally filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Tuesday, at which time the Balsillie bid came to light.
A bankruptcy hearing reportedly is scheduled for Thursday.
"Obviously, the focus is the courts have to make a decision on the offer that I have made," Balsillie told reporters Tuesday in Toronto.
"It is a firm offer, it is a supported offer and the place I want to move the team to is in an unserved market in southern Ontario … but clearly, we believe there is a great opportunity there."
"It is the owner's decision whether to file for bankruptcy and we provided our support, or our offer, our financing into it, so really this is in response to events that happened," Balsillie explained. "We're responding to events and this is a very serious and committed offer by me — it is funded and financed and fully backed."
NHL relieves Moyes of duties
The NHL reacted swiftly, responding to the petition for sale and relieving Moyes of his duties with the Coyotes.
"We have just become aware of today's bankruptcy court filing purportedly made on behalf of the Phoenix Coyotes," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement.
"We are investigating the circumstances surrounding the petition, including the propriety of its filing. We have removed Jerry Moyes from all positions of authority to act for or on behalf of the club."
A spokesman for the city of Glendale, Ariz., where the team's arena is located, told reporters last week that the NHL had assumed control of the Coyotes and that the team ownership paid $351,000 US in overdue rent on Feb. 25 — reportedly after receiving a unspecified loan from the league.
"Extensive efforts have been undertaken to sell the team or attract additional investors who would keep the team in Glendale," Moyes told the Arizona Republic.
Moyes told the newspaper that the court process will attach a new owner and location to the Coyotes by June 30, but the sale of the franchise will still need league approval.
"The league will appear and proceed before the bankruptcy court in the best interests of all the club's constituencies, including its fans in Arizona and the league's 29 other member clubs," Daly said.
Tried to purchase Penguins, Predators
Balsillie tried twice before to buy an existing NHL franchise and relocate it in Hamilton, only to have both efforts fall through.
He struck a tentative agreement to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins for $175 million US three years ago, but the offer was dissolved because NHL commissioner Gary Bettman intervened and reportedly imposed restrictions that would keep the team in Pittsburgh.
Balsillie later agreed to purchase the Nashville Predators for $238 million US from Craig Leipold in 2007, and started a season-ticket drive in Hamilton when Leipold had second thoughts and scuttled the deal.
Leipold later sold the Predators for $193 million US and bought a 51 per cent majority stake in the Minnesota Wild.
Balsillie contacted Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano last year about the possibility of purchasing the franchise and, though receptive to a potential offer, Golisano preferred the team stay put in western New York.
Balsillie is seeking the support of Canadians in his bid to buy and relocate the Coyotes on a website called www.makeitseven.ca, referring to the possibility of a seventh NHL team in Canada.