NHL unanimously rejects Balsillie's ownership application

The Canadian Press

7/30/2009 9:43:49 AM

CHICAGO -- The NHL Board of Governors approved a bid Wednesday by Jerry Reinsdorf to assume ownership of the financially troubled Phoenix Coyotes, and unanimously rejected an application by Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie to buy the team.

The group headed by Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls, was the only one of three applicants to gain the board's approval on Wednesday. That vote was unanimous, said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

The board convened a special meeting in Chicago to evaluate each group's applications before an eventual sale of the Coyotes, who were taken into Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 5 by current owner Jerry Moyes.

In an email to the Globe and Mail, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Balsillie was rejected as an owner under bylaw 35 of the league's constitution.

That section says the league can reject potential owners if it does not believe they are of "good character and integrity," as well as for financial reasons.

Daly refused to elaborate when asked to be more specific.

Balsillie spokesman Bill Walker declined to comment on details of the meeting with the governors' executive committee or on why the league rejected the BlackBerry billionaire as an owner.

Walker told the Globe and Mail that a new version of Balisillie's US$212.5 million offer for the team will be filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in a few days.

"We're moving full steam ahead," Walker said. "We don't believe that Jim Balsillie's qualification to be an NHL owner is an issue at all."

Bettman said the process on Wednesday was necessary to comply with the NHL's constitution and bylaws, and an order by U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Redfield T. Baum.

"We will so advise the bankruptcy court and we will move this process forward," Bettman said.

An application by a third group, led by Anthony LeBlanc of Thunder Bay, Ont., was deemed "incomplete," Bettman said. That consortium, however, was encouraged by the board to continue with the application process.

Representatives of each group met Wednesday morning with the NHL board's executive committee, which took its recommendations to the entire board for a vote.

The Reinsdorf group has told the NHL it wants to buy the Coyotes for US$148 million and keep the team in Arizona. Balsillie's proposal is contingent on moving the franchise to Hamilton.

"This had nothing whatsoever to do with the relocation issue," Bettman said "All that was considered was the suitability of the applicants of the owners."

More than money is involved, Bettman stressed.

"The criteria set forth in the (NHL) constitution and bylaws relates to financial wherewithal, character, integrity and the view whether or not the other owners would deem you a good partner," Bettman said.

Balsillie hoped to buy the team and move it to hockey-crazed southern Ontario. However, the NHL wants the Coyotes to remain in Arizona and continue to play at the Arena in Glendale, a Phoenix suburb.

The team has lost money in Arizona each season since moving there from Winnipeg in 1996.

When asked why Reinsdorf's group's application was approved, Bettman said, "That's a question better directed to the governors because they're the ones who vote.

"But I think based on Mr. Reinsdorf's experience and reputation as an owner of two very successful franchises in other sports leagues, it's no surprise that his application would be endorsed."