PHOENIX – One day before the future of the Phoenix Coyotes was set to become clearer, the NHL received some major support in its attempt to block the sale of the team.
The three other major North American pro sports leagues all filed court statements Monday asking the bankruptcy court to respect the NHL’s rules on ownership transfer and relocation.
The NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball all expressed concern that the NHL’s case with Coyotes majority owner Jerry Moyes could set a dangerous “precedent”.
Judge Redfield Baum will preside over an afternoon bankruptcy hearing Tuesday and determine who controls the Coyotes.
The latest batch of court filings on Monday included an email from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman that confirmed he would prefer to see a team located to Winnipeg rather than Hamilton because of aging Copps Coliseum. An affidavit from Coyotes lawyer Earl Scudder had previously made that claim.
One of the most challenging parts of Judge Baum’s job will be sifting through the 100-plus documents filed so far and establishing which version of events is most accurate. There is a sizeable gap between statements filed by the NHL and those given on behalf of Moyes.
The discrepancies can been found in details both big and small, but generally centre around the question of which side has authority over the NHL team.
That trend continued with Bettman’s affidavit in which the commissioner alleges that he has been “completely responsible for control of the ownership interest” in the Coyotes since Moyes signed a proxy agreement in November. That runs contrary to statements previously given by Moyes and others on his side.
Bettman insists that he ordered Jeff Shumway’s removal as team chairman and CEO back in January: “I had the complete authority to make changes to the management structure of the club and exercised that authority.”
Moyes has said that Shumway resigned.
The commissioner also challenges the sworn statement given by Scudder, labelling it “inaccurate and incomplete.”
In his filing, Scudder recalls an April 3 conversation with Bettman in which he informed the commissioner that someone – later identified as Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie – was interested in buying the Coyotes and moving them to southern Ontario. Bettman claims he then told Scudder that he had no authority to talk to anybody about moving the team – a point that isn’t mentioned in Scudder’s statement.
Any hope Balsillie has of bringing the Coyotes to Hamilton hinges on Tuesday’s hearing. If the judges rules that the NHL is in control of the team, then Balsillie’s US$212.5 bid to purchase it out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy is going nowhere.
He’ll still have some hope if Moyes is deemed to possess control of the Coyotes, although Balsillie’s ability to purchase them and move them to Hamilton will remain contingent on the judge’s ruling about whether a 30-year arena lease with the city of Glendale, Ariz., can be broken and the results of a separate antitrust case with the league over relocation.
Moyes is eager to get rid of the franchise he purchased in September 2006. He told the NHL last August that he was no longer willing to cover the team’s operating losses and has estimated that he’s sank roughly $300 million into the Coyotes.
Even if a sale to Balsillie goes through, he’ll likely only recoup about a third of that money.
The trucking magnate has lived in Glendale for the past 42 years and describes himself as an “accidental owner” of the Coyotes. He started as a small investor before increasing his stake to try and protect the investment, eventually purchasing the team from Steve Ellman.
He believes that Balsillie’s bid will do the most to satisfy the team’s creditors – a group he claims the league has little interest in.
“The NHL is admittedly acting only for its own interests as it seeks to force Moyes to absorb even greater losses,” said one document filed on behalf of the Coyotes majority owner.
Balsillie has aggressively sought support in Canada since making his bid on May 5. In addition to bringing in corporate sponsors and reaching out to fans through his website www.makeitseven.ca, he’s also tried to outline his vision for another NHL team north of the border during a number of interviews.
His company PSE Sports & Entertainment also conducted a random poll of 1,009 Canadians and announced in a release on Monday that 72 per cent of respondents support the bid to buy the Coyotes.
-With files from The Associated Press.