CHICAGO The National Hockey League is backing a bid by sports team mogul Jerry Reinsdorf to buy the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes for up to $148 million rather than the $212.5 million offer from Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie.
The NHL believes the owner of the Chicago White Sox baseball and Chicago Bulls basketball teams and part-time Arizona resident will keep the team in the Phoenix area and the league hopes Judge Redfield Baum accepts Reinsdorf's bid, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in an email.
"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 in an email.
He added that the NHL feels Reinsdorf's group is committed to the Arizona market and if it decided to sell would look first for a local owner. The NHL has repeatedly said it wants the Coyotes to remain in Arizona.
Balsillie, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd's co-chief executive, wants to buy the team and move it to southern Ontario.
A Balsillie spokesman declined to comment, pointing to a Tuesday court filing in which attorneys for his sports holding company said Reinsdorf's bid did not provide any cash to pay unsecured creditors of the Coyotes and was contingent on reaching new deals with the secured creditors.
"There is a significant likelihood that the Reinsdorf bid will not be finalized, and if finalized, will not be held the 'best' bid," according to the court filing.
Last week, Reinsdorf submitted a bid to pay up to $148 million for the hockey team, which has not made a profit since moving to Arizona in 1996. The team is coached and partly owned by all-time scoring leader Wayne Gretzky.
An auction for the team will be held August 5, limited to bidders planning to keep the team in Arizona. If Reinsdorf's bid were deemed inadequate, a second auction would be held on September 10 -- open to bidders who have the option to move the team.
In his bid, Reinsdorf said he expected to renegotiate the team's arena lease agreement with the Phoenix suburb of Glendale, where the team plays, as well as reach new deals with foodservice company Aramark Corp and the team's regional television broadcaster.
Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes, who put the team in bankruptcy against the NHL's wishes and hopes to sell to Balsillie, has expressed disappointment with Reinsdorf's bid, saying it was not legitimate.
"There appears to be no cash in the proposal and it fails to provide funds to pay creditors," he said in a statement on Monday.
He also questioned why Glendale would negotiate a more favorable lease at the arena in which the Coyotes play for Reinsdorf but not him.
The case is: in Re: Dewey Ranch Hockey LLC, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Arizona, No. 09-09488.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)