The NHL's rejection of Jim Balsillie's application to purchase the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes is the latest attempt by the league to prevent another team in Canada, the Canadian billionaire's spokesman, Bill Walker, told CBC's Newsworld.
The board of governor's executive committee unanimously denied Balsillie during a Wednesday meeting in Chicago, while unanimously approving the bid by American businessman Jerry Reinsdorf.
Walker said the decision is simply based on the NHL's intent to keep another franchise from coming north of border.
"I think that hockey fans can judge what this is really about in terms of the NHL trying to block Canadians from having a seventh professional hockey team in Canada," Walker said.
The Coyotes were brought into Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 5 by current owner Jerry Moyes.
Balsillie — the co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion — immediately offered $212.5 US million once the team was placed in bankruptcy. However, the bid is conditional on Balsillie's desire to move the team to Hamilton.
Reinsdorf, owner of the NBA's Chicago Bulls and baseball's Chicago White Sox, put in a bid of $148 million for the Coyotes, an offer that would keep the team in Phoenix.
'It's not about character'
Walker disputes the claim Balsillie's bid was rejected based on an NHL bylaw that requires an owner to be of good character and integrity.
"It's not about character, it's about the NHL's determination to keep Canada from having that team," said Walker. "I don't think there are many people in government or in global business who question Jim Balsillie's character. He's done a ton of work and put up a ton of his money own money for philanthropic causes.
"Sports fans can judge the NHL on its ability to evaluate character. The owner that was chosen over Mr. Balsillie in the Nashville Predators' case, [California businessman William] Del Biaggio, has now pleaded guilty to fraud and is facing a lengthy prison sentence. There have been other NHL owners who've had extensive legal troubles."
Balsillie was approved as an owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006, but backed out of the deal when the league tried to put restrictions on his ownership, including a provision that would have blocked him from moving the team.
A year later, he attempted to buy the Predators, but then-owner Craig Leipold dissolved the tentative agreement, opting to sell the franchise to group led by Del Biaggio for $190 million — approximately $50 million less than Balsillie's offer.
An auction for bidders seeking to keep the team in Arizona is scheduled for Aug. 5, provided U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Redfield T. Baum finds the bids satisfactorily meet the demands of the NHL club's creditors.
Should Baum find no acceptable offer, it's possible he could allow bids attempting to relocate the team.
"We're just as hopeful today as we were yesterday and the day before," said Walker. "Nothing's really changed."