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NEW YORK/WASHINGTON An effort to buy the National Hockey League's bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes and move the team to Canada advanced on Tuesday when U.S. antitrust authorities cleared the proposed purchase by a top executive of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd.
Antitrust officials completed their review of co-chief executive officer James Balsillie's plan to buy the Coyotes without taking any action to block it, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said in a notice.
Balsillie offered to buy the money-losing hockey team in May for $212.5 million when it filed for bankruptcy protection, on condition it be relocated to Hamilton, Ontario.
Balsillie's PSE Sports and Entertainment LP and the Coyotes submitted their application to the NHL for the relocation the Coyotes to Hamilton, a city of about 500,000 between Toronto and Buffalo, New York, according to documents filed Monday in federal bankruptcy court in Arizona.
In their application, Balsillie and the Coyotes argued the team cannot thrive in Phoenix.
"The club is not, never has been and never will be financially viable, consistently supported by fans and a leading professional sports team in Arizona," they said in the application.
Balsillie and the Coyotes argued that a smaller city such as Hamilton could successfully support a team, drawing a comparison with the National Football League, which they said has prospered despite the absence of a franchise in Los Angeles, while having a strong fan base in a smaller market such as Green Bay, Wisconsin, home of the Packers team.
They also said that PSE has secured favorable lease terms with Copps Coliseum, the presumptive home of any Hamilton franchise, and has a renovation plan to expand it, apparently in response to the NHL's criticism of the arena.
NHL officials have said the league is committed to keeping the team in Phoenix and have fought with Coyotes' owner Jerry Moyes over who controls the hockey team.
The Coyotes have never made a profit since moving to Arizona from Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1996, with combined losses of $73 million from 2005 to 2008, according to court documents.
A hearing to decide whether the Coyotes can be relocated if no local buyer matches Balsillie's offer is set for June 9. Last week the judge overseeing the case, Redfield Baum, ordered an auction for the club to be held June 22, if he rules the team can be moved.
Legal arguments for the June 9 hearing must be filed by Friday.
The case is in Re: Dewey Ranch Hockey LLC, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Arizona, No. 09-09488.
(Reporting by Phil Wahba and Julie Vorman, editing by Dave Zimmerman and Tim Dobbyn)