PHOENIX – Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie has pledged to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale this season if he wins an auction for the financially troubled club.
The revised offer came during an emergency hearing Wednesday before bankruptcy Judge Redfield T. Baum, who called Balsillie’s proposal “a fairly significant change.”
Balsillie does, however, still plan to move the team to Hamilton as part of his US$242.5-million bid.
Balsillie’s revised bid appeared to be a last-ditch effort to win over the city of Glendale, which sides with the NHL in the long-running courtroom battle. The only other bid has come from the NHL, which has offered $140 million. The league would try to resell the team to a local buyer but, failing that, would explore relocation.
Baum gave no indication when he might rule on whether to award the team to the NHL or to Balsillie.
“Sooner or later,” said Baum, who also could reject both bids.
The judge called the hearing on owner Jerry Moyes’ request to force the NHL into mediation over contentious issues surrounding the club’s sale. Baum was expected to rule on the mediation issue later in the day.
Balsillie originally offered Glendale $50 million. In an amended bid filed Wednesday, Balsillie’s PSE Sports & Entertainment offered to give Glendale $25 million up front and the rest of the money when the team leaves.
In the filing, PSE said the new offer “is to meet the concerns expressed by creditors that they will be harmed if PSE prevails because of the NHL’s threat of lengthy appellate litigation.”
In Wednesday’s hearing, PSE lawyer Jeffrey Kessler described the revised offer as “a cost-free $50 million insurance policy for Glendale.”
Glendale lawyer William Baldiga said he hadn’t reviewed the new offer, but he told the judge he did not consider it an increase to the bid.
Baum, though, seemed intrigued.
“To an old bankruptcy judge, $25 million cash, no matter what happens today – that’s a lot of money,” he said.
Balsillie’s promise to play this season in Glendale also might have been a tactic to sell tickets as the NHL season approaches. Fewer than 2,000 fans showed up for a split-squad game against Los Angeles last week.
“It’s been impossible to sell tickets because nobody knows if it’s going to be here,” Moyes said outside the courthouse. “So I think this will be the opening of the floodgates, and if the fans are convinced that the team needs to be here, and sponsors, this will be an opportunity for them to prove that the team should be here.
“That’s what I’ve said all along – my first choice has always been to leave the team here and find support to leave it here,” Moyes said.
While court was in session, the Coyotes sent out a press release announcing a “Welcome Back Whiteout” for the home opener against Columbus on Oct. 10, with drastically reduced prices for upper-and lower-bowl seats.
“They’re having trouble selling tickets right now,” NHL lawyer Alan Meda told the judge.
The team started the “whiteout” – with fans decked out in white shirts – during playoff games at U.S. Airways Center in downtown Phoenix. The Coyotes haven’t reached the post-season since moving to Glendale in the 2003-04 season.
Arguing against mediation, Meda hinted the Coyotes might not survive more delays in the sale.
“This team will not live,” Meda said in court. “It cannot afford to delay a decision.”