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Balsillie says NHL will be profitable in Hamilton, unlike Arizona

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Balsillie says NHL will be profitable in Hamilton, unlike Arizona

The Canadian Press
By:

Unlike in Phoenix, an NHL team will be immediately profitable in Hamilton, says Jim Balsillie.

The co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion made his assertion in a relocation application filed to the league late Monday, the latest step in his campaign to move the Phoenix Coyotes to southern Ontario.

The NHL, which wants to keep the franchise in suburban Glendale, is fighting Balsillie's US$212.5-million bid to buy the team in bankruptcy court and move them to Canada.

They'll argue their cases next Tuesday in court. The NHL claims majority owner Jerry Moyes did not have authority to file for bankruptcy because the league has controlled the team since November, 2008.

Balsillie hired former Canadian Football League commissioner Tom Wright to author the relocation application. Since he stepped down as head of the CFL in 2006, Wright has remained active in the business of sports marketing and brand management.

"Frankly, I am a by-the-rules kind of guy," Wright said Tuesday in a conference call. "The submission we've made to the NHL is compliant with their bylaws and rules and regulations and it speaks for itself."

Balsillie would not comment on his application Tuesday while attending a University of Manitoba event in Winnipeg. He steadfastly refused to answer questions about hockey despite repeated attempts by reporters.

"Come on guys," Balsillie said after one media question, looking to students to rescue him with a business-related query.

In his application to the NHL, Balsillie says he's willing to sustain financial losses in the NHL team's first years of operation in Hamilton, but doesn't think he will based on market size, fan and city support and an NHL-sized arena in Copps Coliseum.

Balsillie and the City of Hamilton have agreed on a 20-year lease for Copps with the option of extending it up to 32 years, according to the document.

"There's every indication and prospective that the team will actually be profitable," Wright said. "In the event that it's not, Mr. Balsillie has expressed his willingness and his ability to cover any of those losses."

Based on statistics and information provided by Moyes, Wright says the Coyotes have never made a profit in 13 years since moving from Winnipeg and financial losses since then total more than US$316 million.

"The club itself has done its own financial projections," Wright said. "Despite aggressive and optimistic assumptions, including the almost doubling of ticket prices when attendance is anticipated to increase by over 20 per cent, even then, over the next five years, the club is projected to lose in excess of 40 million dollars.

"The information and evidence is quite compelling that the franchise is not successful and financially viable in Phoenix. Clearly it has every opportunity to be successful here."

The application is for relocation for the 2009-10 season. Balsillie's offer to buy the team expires at the end of June.

In a separate motion filed recently, Balsillie has said he's willing to own the team for one year in Phoenix if NHL scheduling is an impediment to transfer, but financial losses would have to be negotiated with the league.

Wright says there was no requirement under NHL rules that the relocation application address the impact a team moving to southern Ontario would have on the Toronto Maple Leafs or Buffalo Sabres.

Wright hadn't received a response from the NHL on Tuesday afternoon. Friday is the deadline for filing motions ahead of next Tuesday's court hearing in Phoenix.

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With files from Chinta Puxley in Winnipeg

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Balsillie says NHL will be profitable in Hamilton, unlike Arizona