It’s complicated, it’s happening all the way in Phoenix and it involves the least popular of the nation’s Big Four pro sports leagues, but the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy case is shaping up to be the year’s landmark sports law case. The big question hovering over the entire proceeding: Who ultimately has the authority to decide who can own a team and where that team plays — a professional sports league or a bankruptcy court judge?
The National Hockey League, represented by Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, believes such power rests with the league, and it has taken the highly unusual step of submitting its own bid to purchase the Coyotes over a rival bidder who might relocate the franchise to Canada. Though the exact amount of the NHL’s bid is undisclosed, it is widely assumed to be far less than the current high bidder — Jim Balsillie, a Canadian businessman and hockey fanatic who has long desired to buy a U.S.-based NHL team and move it to Hamilton, Ontario, about an hour north of Toronto. Balsillie, who owns the company behind the BlackBerry, has bid $212.5 million for the Coyotes, an amount that would likely produce the best deal for the Coyotes’ creditors. Phoenix-based Lewis and Roca is serving as Balsillie’s bankruptcy counsel, but the firm recently retained Dewey & LeBoeuf sports law heavyweight Jeffrey Kessler to depose high-ranking NHL officials, court records show.
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