September 12, 2009 / 12:18 AM / 9 years ago

NHL says Balsillie must say sorry to own a team

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Canadian billionaire James Balsillie was told on Friday that he will need to apologize and show humility if he wants to one day achieve his dream of owning one of North America’s professional ice hockey teams.

Canadian billionaire James Balsillie arrives at the U.S. Federal Bankruptcy Court in Phoenix, Arizona, September 10, 2009. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

The conditions were set for the co-Chief Executive of Research in Motion, the company behind the Blackberry smart phone, by a National Hockey League lawyer in arguments before a federal judge in Phoenix.

“Perhaps someday his passion for hockey will meet up with a recognition on his part that he isn’t above the rules that apply to all the other NHL owners,” Tony Clark said at an auction for the league’s bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes, for which Balsillie and the NHL are the only bidders.

“Maybe he will find a way to express an honest regret and a humility and acknowledge where he went wrong.”

A spokesman for Balsillie declined to comment.

Balsillie offered to buy the Coyotes when they filed for bankruptcy protection in May on condition he be able to move the team to Hamilton, Ontario. Neither he nor the team had warned the league in advance of their plans.

The NHL accused him of trying to use the bankruptcy system to circumvent its authority to decide where a team can move.

Balsillie clashed with the NHL over previous attempts to buy the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins and move a team to Canada.

Clark acknowledged that Balsillie had the financial means and love for hockey to own a team. But he argued that the court should choose the NHL’s bid because the league wants to keep the team in Arizona.

“Put someone in charge who believes in the team,” Clark said in the proceedings, which could be listened to by phone.

Bankruptcy judge Redfield Baum questioned the NHL’s assertion that Coyotes were viable in Phoenix, saying, “The economic picture is not pretty.”

The Coyotes haven’t made a profit since moving to Phoenix from Winnipeg in 1996.

Balsillie has bid $242.5 million offer for the Coyotes but in July, the NHL’s board of governors unanimously rejected Balsillie as a potential owner and the league dismissed his bid, saying he lacked the good character to own a team.

The NHL placed its own $140 million last month in an effort to remove the team from the oversight of the bankruptcy court and then resell

it.

Taking the stand on Friday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he believed that two earlier groups that recently withdrew bids would be interested in making offers for the Coyotes if the sale process is taken outside of bankruptcy court.

National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman arrives at the U.S. Federal Bankruptcy Court in Phoenix, Arizona, September 10, 2009. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

A group led by sports team mogul Jerry Reinsdorf withdrew a bid of up to $148 million in August. Another group, Ice Edge, which included current Coyotes coach and part owner Wayne Gretzky, hockey’s all-time leading scorer, offered up to $150 million. Both plans called for keeping the team in Phoenix.

The judge is expected to make his decision late next week.

The case is in Re: Dewey Ranch Hockey LLC, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Arizona, No. 09-09488.

Additional reporting by Ben Klayman; Editing by Richard Chang

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