Wright says Balsillie's plan is following the NHL's rules

TSN.ca Staff
6/2/2009 7:37:42 PM
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While the National Hockey League believes Jim Balsillie's plan to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton is circumventing their rules, Tom Wright - who helped prepare the relocation application filed Monday - disagrees.

In a conference call held the day after Balsillie filed his relocation application with the league, the former CFL commissioner gave his own insight on the Canadian billionaire's bold moves.

"I was retained to do this project, to provide an objective and fact-based presentation of the information available to support an application to transfer a franchise," explained Wright. "I believe the process that has been undertaken is consistent with the rules and regulations that are set forth in the constitution of the NHL. The information and evidence is quite compelling that the franchise is not successful and financially viable in Phoenix and clearly it has every opportunity and perspective to be successful [in southern Ontario]."

Wright pointed to market size, fan interest and Hamilton's history with regards to hockey as the reasons the proposed move would be a success.

"When you look at all those factors, when you look at how the cit of Hamilton has traditionally been a sports town, if you look at the new arena in which the games will be played, there is every indication and prospective the team will actually be profitable," he said. "But in the event that in its initial years it is not, Mr. Balsillie has expressed his willingness and ability to cover those losses."

The co-CEO of Research In Motion has said he will cover the club's losses following a move. But according to spokesman Bill Walker, Balsillie is certain the club will turn an immediate profit in Hamilton and that the prospects of a financial turn-around in Phoenix are slim.

Wright added that the Coyotes' financial records paint a grim picture of the clubs past, present and future if the franchise were to remain in Phoenix.

"We had access to all of the financial records of the Phoenix Coyotes through Mr. Moyes," he said. "We were able to look at the most recent financials as well as throughout its 13-year history, when you look at those financials they are quite revealing, in 13 seasons the club has never posted a profit."

The records showed $360 million in losses over the franchise's history.

Wright went on to explain he felt that when compared to the two other reported bids, Balsillie's is the only one that would satisfy creditors.

"One was a reported submission that never made it through the NHL to Mr. Moyes," he said. "And the other submission I believe had some conditions on it including an escrow payment in the neighbourhood of $30 million that would have had the bid in the $80 million to 90 million range, so I think as it relates to bids that would be sufficient to take care of a significant portion if not all of the liabilities, none have been received by Mr. Moyes."

As far as the Balsillie camp is concerned, their plan covers every need the NHL set out in their application. They contend the team is currently in financial trouble and that the proposed market in southern Ontario would give them the best chance to become profitable. 

"What we know that this team is bankrupt, what we know is by the criteria of the NHL - owner, market, arena - we have unquestionably an accomplished businessman committed to being the best NHL owner he can be," said Walker. "We have a top tier market-place of seven million people that has already shown great exuberance ... and the arena itself is being designed by one of the top sports architecture firms in the world that has renovated several NHL facilities."

Judge Redfield T. Baum has scheduled a June 9 hearing where the sides in the Coyotes dispute will make their arguments. Baum has stated he will make a prompt ruling on the issue of relocation.

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