James Balsillie, the co-CEO of Research-in-Motion, can’t seem to catch a break. Having failed in previous efforts to buy NHL teams in Pittsburgh and Nashville and move them to Hamilton, Ontario, he’s now been shut out in his bid to buy the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes. Arizona bankruptcy Judge Redfield Baum ruled late on Monday that a June 29 deadline set by Balsillie did not allow enough time to settle the complex case. It’s a shame things were so rushed. The decision could yet be a game changer for struggling sports franchises.
Balsillie (pictured above enjoying the game from the ice) and the owner of the Coyotes, trucking magnate Jerry Moyes, offered to put together a $212.5 million deal in May, when the franchise filed for bankruptcy protection, to move the team to Hamilton, about 200 miles northwest of Buffalo, N.Y. But NHL says the franchise is contractually obligated to stay in Phoenix.
Being a judge, Baum took the liberty to say both sides are wrong. He rejected Moyes’ attorneys’ argument that antitrust law allowed the sale and relocation of the Coyotes without NHL approval, and he dismissed concerns of other sports leagues that allowing the Coyotes to relocate would encourage other financially struggling teams to use bankruptcy court to get around league rules.
The Coyotes have never made a profit since moving to Arizona from Winnipeg in 1996 and lost $73 million from 2005 to 2008, according to court documents. If bankruptcy, with its power to renegotiate contracts, is not a good enough reason to find a better market for your product, what is?
Balsillie is keeping his game face on, saying there is still time for a deal to be worked out. He probably doesn’t need the deadlines. While the fortunes of the BlackBerry market may ebb and flow, its unlikely fans in Hamilton will lose their taste for a game that has proven so popular in Florida, North Carolina and Southern California, if not the desert.