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Research in Motion head Balsillie signs agreement to buy Pittsburgh Penguins

The Canadian Press
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Research in Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie. (CP PHOTO/Adrian Wyld) Author: The Hockey News

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Research in Motion head Balsillie signs agreement to buy Pittsburgh Penguins

The Canadian Press
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Terms haven't officially been released but Balsillie is believed to be spending US$175 million for the NHL club.

Balsille, co-chief executive officer of Canada's Research In Motion Ltd. (TSX:RIM) - the maker of the BlackBerry - met with the Pittsburgh media Thursday night at Mellon Arena, where the Penguins are scheduled to face the Philadelphia Flyers in their season opener.

"It's exciting, the prospect of this team returning to the glory that (Mario Lemieux) led it to in the first two Cups." said Balsillie. "It's a great hockey town."

The deal still needs to be approved by the NHL board of governors, a process which is expected to be completed later this fall.

"We just signed it last night and I had to work today," Balsillie said. "So I've got a lot of reading to do over this Thanksgiving Day long weekend."

The Penguins, two-time Stanley Cup champions in the 1990s, were purchased in federal bankruptcy court in 1999 by a group that was led by Hall of Fame Penguins forward Mario Lemieux. Lemieux retired as a player last season and later put the team up for sale.

"Jim is as we all know a great businessman," said Lemieux. "He has a great company up in Canada, but I think the most important thing is that he's a passionate hockey fan, which is going to be great for our franchise for many years to come."

Rumours have swirled that Balsillie could move the team to Hamilton, which is close to his home and RIM's head office in Waterloo, Ont.

Lemieux was opposed to the move.

"It was very important for us to keep it here it Pittsburgh," said Lemieux. "I think Jim is committed as long as we build a new arena and we have a fair deal."

Balsillie indicated Thursday that he plans to keep the team in Pittsburgh.

"Pittsburgh has shown itself to be an outstanding hockey market, and the team has an incredible tradition of success and fan support," he said in a statement. "With young stars such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, we all know the Penguins have a very bright future on the ice. I look forward to owning this team for a long time in Pittsburgh."

The NHL does not want the Penguins to move.

"We are committed to keeping the Penguins in Pittsburgh, provided the team has a new building," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Canadian Press on Thursday. "Mr. Balsillie has assured the commissioner that he shares this commitment."

Balsillie, 45, became the front-runner in the bidding for the team a few weeks ago after deal involving former Torontonian Sam Fingold fell apart this summer.

Negotiations for an arena to replace the 45-year-old Mellon Arena have been held up because Lemieux's group has a deal with the Isle of Capri casino chain to build the arena at no cost to the team or city. That deal is contingent on Isle of Capri being granted the licence for a new downtown Pittsburgh slot machine parlour.

"This has to be done really soon," Balsille said. "I sure hope it's done. I can't see it being spring before this is done. Does anyone want to wait another year?"

The licence is not expected to be awarded until at least the end of December.

City and Allegheny County officials have urged the team to agree to a Plan B deal to build the arena if Isle of Capri does not get the casino. Land for the project has been acquired across the street from Mellon Arena.

However, Lemieux's group has declined to accept the alternative plan, saying it is bound to the Isle of Capri deal.

Balsillie comes to the NHL with deep pockets.

The explosion of BlackBerrys has generated RIM's rapid growth. In late June, RIM issued better-than-expected results for its fiscal first quarter along with a rosy outlook for BlackBerry sales.

The firm brought in revenues of $613.1 million in the three months ended June 3, up 35 per cent from $453.9 million in the same period a year earlier - beating the consensus analysts' estimate by about $10 million.

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Research in Motion head Balsillie signs agreement to buy Pittsburgh Penguins