SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The NHL believes Jerry Reinsdorf can succeed where Jerry Moyes failed as owner of the financially ailing Phoenix Coyotes.
Reinsdorf, the owner of baseball’s Chicago White Sox and the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, has offered US$148 million to buy the Coyotes out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy and keep the team in Glendale, a suburb west of Phoenix.
The Coyotes have been awash in ink as red as their home jerseys.
“Obviously, some of the numbers aren’t pretty, but they obviously see potential,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said on Tuesday. “And what I can say about Mr. Reinsdorf, and I don’t know him as well as commissioner (Gary) Bettman knows him, but he wouldn’t chase something that he didn’t think could be successful from a business perspective.”
Reinsdorf’s offer, submitted to a Phoenix bankruptcy judge last week, calls for a new Jobing.com Arena lease with the city of Glendale and unspecified new agreements with other creditors, including the NHL, which has been funding the club.
The offer is US$64.5 million less than the bid by Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, who wants to move the franchise to Southern Ontario. The NHL has opposed Balsillie’s bid, saying it wants to keep hockey in the desert despite tepid fan support in recent seasons.
In the NHL’s first public comments on Reinsdorf’s offer, Daly expressed optimism that bankruptcy Judge Redfield T. Baum would approve Reinsdorf’s bid even though it’s far less than Balsillie’s.
“At the end of the day, what we have and what’s been submitted to the court, we think is the best offer that’s out there, and we’re trying to maximize the value for all creditors,” Daly said.
Daly said he’s also optimistic that Reinsdorf’s group will be able to negotiate a more favourable lease with the city of Glendale, although he declined to specify benefits that the city might grant.
“In some respects, (the lease) has contributed to the financial losses the club has suffered,” Daly said.
Asked what might happen if the team continues to lose money, Daly said Reinsdorf appears committed to keeping the team in Glendale.
“There’s certainly been no indication that this bid is kind of a temporary, let’s-see-how-it-works-and-then-let’s-bolt kind of bid,” Daly said. “I think they’re committed to the long-term future of this franchise.
“If it doesn’t work for whatever reason, I think they’ll try to find a local owner before they try to relocate the franchise.”
As Daly met with reporters, he sat at a small table next to a snack bar at the ALLTEL Ice Den, home to youth hockey leagues and Coyotes practices.
A handful of fans – many decked out in Coyotes sweaters despite the blistering heat outside – chanted “NHL! NHL! NHL!” as Daly’s news conference ended.
Reinsdorf’s group could take over quickly if its offer is approved.
According to a sale schedule adopted by Baum, Aug. 5 is the deadline for a sale to a local buyer. If that doesn’t happen, the judge set a “fallback” deadline of Sept. 10 to sell to someone who might relocate the team.
Daly reiterated the league’s position that Moyes didn’t have the right to put the team into bankruptcy or to sell it to someone who would move the team.
“I’m hopeful, and I will say I’m confident that the bid is the right bid and takes care of creditors,” Daly said.
“Obviously, the bid does not put as much money in Mr. Moyes’ pocket as the Balsillie bid, but by the same token we don’t believe that Mr. Moyes really has the right to sell a franchise opportunity in Southern Ontario.
“I’m not here to disparage Mr. Moyes because he stood behind the club and put a lot of money into the club and lost a lot of money over a number of years,” Daly said.
“Having said that, sometimes that’s the way things go, and you get out of investments when you can.”
Moyes, in a statement this week, declared that Reinsdorf’s bid “was not a legitimate offer.”
“There appears to be no cash in the proposal and it fails to provide funds to pay creditors as had been represented to the court by attorneys for the National Hockey League,” Moyes said.
Moyes also wondered why Glendale would cut a more favourable deal with new owners.
“If Glendale would not make concessions to me, I question why they would make them to someone else,” Moyes said.