Monday, May 18, 2009
MLB, NFL, NBA support NHL
PHOENIX -- The NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA have lined up in support of the NHL's court fight to block the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes and move to southern Canada.
The other major sports leagues, including the office of baseball commissioner Bud Selig, filed statements in U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Monday in support of the NHL.
All three statements ask the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to "respect the National Hockey League's rules and procedures regarding ownership transfer and relocation."
The statements of baseball and the NBA ask that the court "not set precedent that could severely disrupt the business of professional hockey," baseball, basketball and other major league sports.
The NFL statement had similar wording, asking the court to avoid a "precedent that has the potential to undermine or disrupt the business of professional hockey, football or other major league sports."
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman added his voice to the flood of court documents in the league's battle with Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes and the attempt to sell the franchise and move it to southern Ontario.
Bettman filed a declaration on Monday stating that he has had control of the franchise since November and that Moyes was not authorized to take the team into Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this month.
The league also says Moyes had been stripped of authority to negotiate the sale of the team.
A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday before Judge Redfield Baum in U.S. Bankruptcy Court on the NHL's motion to have the case thrown out.
Moyes' bankruptcy filing on May 5, which took the league by surprise, includes a plan to sell the team for $212.5 million to Jim Balsillie, who heads the company that makes the BlackBerry, contingent on moving the franchise to Hamilton, Ontario.
In court documents, the NHL says the Moyes group knew Bettman had taken control of the club but "they simply ignored it in a misguided and dishonest effort to execute Balsillie's bankruptcy scheme."
NHL officials say the bankruptcy filing is an attempt by Balsillie to circumvent the league's franchise sale and relocation process.
The league's case centers on a document containing "unconditional proxies" signed by Moyes on Nov. 14, 2008.
"From that point forward, I was completely responsible for control of the ownership interest in and all rights to manage the club and arena management," Bettman said in his declaration.
Bettman said that on Jan. 23, he told Moyes to fire Coyotes chairman and chief executive officer Jeff Shumway. Shumway, in his declaration, said that he was not fired but "voluntarily resigned."
Shumway and Moyes have filed documents insisting the team was never controlled by the NHL, although the league took over funding of the franchise in November.
"The NHL did not manage, control, run or direct Coyotes Hockey, the Coyotes Hockey Team or any of their related operations, nor to my knowledge did it attempt to do so," Moyes said in a document filed last Friday.
However, the NHL countered that its decision not to interfere with the day-to-day operation of the team did not mean the league was not ultimately in charge.
"The fact that the NHL ruled with a light touch seeking not to publicly embarrass Mr. Moyes in a manner that could have had an adverse impact on his other businesses mostly reflects the adage that no good deed goes unpunished," the league said in a motion to have the NHL take over the affairs of the team's debtors.
Bettman also said he made it clear to Moyes' attorney Earl Scudder in an April 3 conversation that Moyes was not authorized to negotiate with a potential buyer of the franchise.
According to Bettman's account, he told Scudder that "at some point, if we don't have an alternative [in Phoenix] I will have to start looking at the moving option."
Bettman said Scudder told him of Balsillie's interest, and the commissioner told the attorney "he is not authorized to talk to anyone about moving ... so that if anyone asks him about moving he should decline to talk about it and refer them to me."
Moyes' representatives, however, went on to reach a deal with Balsillie and filed the petition for bankruptcy on May 5. The filing came hours before deputy commissioner Bill Daly says he was to present Moyes with a letter of intent to purchase the club from a group headed by Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of baseball's Chicago White Sox and the NBA's Chicago Bulls. That group would keep the team in Glendale.
The amount of the Reinsdorf offer is not known.
The NHL says the franchise could not be moved without the approval of a majority of the league's owners, but Moyes' group has already filed documents saying blocking the move would violate Canadian and U.S. antitrust law.
Court documents say the Coyotes lost a combined $74 million in 2007 and 2008. Moyes, whose Phoenix-based trucking company is also in financial trouble, said he has a $300 million investment in the team and would recoup about $100 million under the bankruptcy plan.
Balsillie failed in earlier attempts to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators.
He has repeatedly said that hockey-crazy Canada deserves a seventh NHL franchise and that a team would thrive the heavily populated region of southern Ontario, although the area is near existing NHL teams in Toronto and Buffalo.