CHICAGO The National Hockey League on Wednesday rejected Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie's application for ownership of the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team but gave its approval to two groups vying to buy the bankrupt club.
The North American sports league said owners unanimously approved the application of sports tycoon Jerry Reinsdorf and ruled incomplete the filing by a group of investors under the name Ice Edge Holdings. But the league said Ice Edge could continue its efforts to buy the team.
The NHL, which does not want Basillie moving the Coyotes to Canada, said in a terse statement said owners voted unanimously not to approve the application from the co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd.
A spokesman for PSE Sports and Entertainment, which represents Balsillie's bid, said he did not believe Balsillie's qualification to be an NHL owner was an issue given the league's approval of his application in 2006, when he previously tried to buy a team.
"The onus will be on the NHL to demonstrate a material change in PSE's circumstances, although no such change was raised with us today," Bill Walker said in a statement. "Beyond that, we have confidence in, and respect for, Judge (Redfield) Baum and the legal process as this case unfolds."
Reinsdorf, a part-time Arizona resident, and Ice Edge have said they intend to keep the money-losing Coyotes in Arizona, while Balsillie wants to move it to Hamilton, Ontario.
An auction for bidders who want to keep the Coyotes in Arizona is scheduled for August 5. If the judge deems the bids inadequate, a second auction open to bidders who could move the team is set for September 10.
The NHL has said it will back any bid that keeps the team in Arizona and has argued owner Jerry Moyes' May bankruptcy filing and deal to sell the club to Balsillie was made to avoid requirements for league approval on any franchise relocation.
Reinsdorf, who owns the Chicago White Sox baseball and Chicago Bulls basketball teams, bid up to $148 million, while Ice Edge's letter of intent offers up to $150 million. Canadian billionaire Balsillie bid was $212.5 million.
The three groups each met Wednesday in a Chicago hotel with the NHL's owners to discuss their bids. The NHL said in court documents it would not discuss relocation with Balsillie.
NHL officials have expressed confidence the court will approve a bidder after the first auction.
Ice Edge investor Keith McCullough, CEO of Connecticut research firm Research Edge, said he was not surprised his group did not receive full approval and said it will work to complete its offer over the next week.
Ice Edge also includes John Breslow, minority owner of the Coyotes, and Anthony LeBlanc, a former executive with RIM, and it is in talks to add current Coyotes coach and part owner Wayne Gretzky, hockey's all-time leading scorer.
McCullough, who played college hockey at Yale University, said his group also wants to play five annual regular-season games in Saskatoon, Canada, to raise additional funds to help return the Coyotes to profitability.
The team has not made a profit since moving from Winnipeg, Canada, in 1996, including a loss of $67.1 million last season.
The case is in Re: Dewey Ranch Hockey LLC, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Arizona, No. 09-09488.
(Editing by Christian Wiessner)