June 6, 2009 / 4:40 PM / in 10 years

NHL-Commissioner Bettman slams RIM CEO's bid for Coyotes

* NHL’s Bettman slams RIM CEO bid ahead of Tuesday hearing

* NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball back NHL

By Phil Wahba

NEW YORK, June 6 (Reuters) - National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman slammed a bid by the co-chief executive officer of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd RIM.TO to buy and relocate the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes team to Canada.

He said the offer would “pale in comparison” to other possible bids for the team.

Bettman argued that even if the NHL were inclined to let the Coyotes relocate to Hamilton, Ontario, other bidders would likely best James Balsillie’s $212.5 million bid, according to documents filed in federal bankruptcy court late Friday.

Balsillie offered to buy the money-losing hockey team in May when it filed for bankruptcy protection, on condition it be relocated to Ontario.

A court hearing is set for Tuesday at U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Phoenix to determine whether the team can be moved.

But in court papers, Bettman made clear the league had no intention of letting the team leave Phoenix.

“The NHL has a critical interest in maintaining the viability of franchises in home markets as already assigned,” Bettman said in the filing.

Bettman dismissed Balsillie’s claim in a filing last week that Coyotes were not viable in Phoenix.

“I believe that the Coyotes could succeed under new ownership in its current home market,” Bettman said in the filing Friday.

Other business people said to be interested in buying the team and keeping it in Phoenix include Jerry Reinsdorf, majority owner of baseball’s Chicago White Sox.

Bettman received an assist from Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Football League, which filed a “friend of the court” brief urging the court to back the NHL and block the sale and move of the team.

Failure to do so, the leagues said, “would encourage financially challenged franchises to enlist the aid of bankruptcy court in an effort to circumvent established league rules that govern such league decisions.”

NHL officials have said the league is committed to keeping the team in Phoenix and fought with Coyotes’ owner, trucking magnate Jerry Moyes, over control of 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.

If the judge rules on Tuesday the team can be moved, he will order an auction for the club to be held June 22.

Editing by Dave Thompson. To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com

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