Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Price list for would-be NHL team-buyers

Winnipeg candidates Coyotes, Thrashers valued at just over $130 million

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If Mark Chipman and David Thomson are still intent on buying an NHL team, they might want to consider doing some due diligence by leafing through Forbes magazine.

A just-released study in Forbes entitled Hockey's most valuable teams pegs the value of the Atlanta Thrashers and the Phoenix Coyotes, the two squads considered to be on Winnipeg's radar, at $135 million and $134 million, respectively, good for 29th and 30th in the league. (All figures are in U.S. dollars.)

That's a far cry from the $228-million average value in the 30-team National Hockey League and light-years from the more than half-billion dollars ($505 million) the Toronto Maple Leafs are considered to be worth.

Chipman and Thomson have made a formal offer -- believed to be in the range of $165 million to $170 million -- to the league to buy a team and move it to Winnipeg.

Kurt Badenhausen, New York-based senior editor at Forbes, which has published the value of NHL teams annually for the past 12 years, said the numbers for the Coyotes and Thrashers are what they're worth in their current circumstances. But he added they'd be considerably more valuable in a "decent" arena in a Canadian city.

"If those teams are portable and they could move to a good arena situation that's ready to go and is going to be supported by fans, they're worth a lot more than $134 million or $135 million," he said.

"If somebody was looking to buy one of these franchises and move it, they're going to have to pay a premium to what they're worth right now. That's the reality of the situation."

Bill Daly, the NHL's deputy commissioner, declined to comment on the Forbes report, other than to reply in an email, "I haven't (and generally don't) read Forbes' valuations. They are typically not based on 'real-world' information, because they don't have access to 'real-world' information."

A representative from True North Sports & Entertainment, owners of the Manitoba Moose, also declined to comment on the report.

So, if the Coyotes' value is $134 million in its current situation, is Matthew Hulsizer, the Chicago-based entrepreneur reported to be negotiating to buy the team, off his rocker?

"To pay $170 million in cash without getting anything back from (Glendale) or the NHL agreeing to cover future losses, I think that's too much. Look how that franchise has performed since the arena opened (in December 2003), it's hard to justify that kind of valuation," Badenhausen said.

"Is Phoenix worth almost twice as much as the Tampa Bay Lightning (which sold earlier this year for a reported $93 million)? I don't think so."

The NHL purchased the Coyotes out of bankruptcy for $140 million in the spring of 2009 and have reportedly lost $30 million operating the team since then.

This past summer, the league and the City of Glendale struck a deal for the Phoenix suburb to pick up the losses this season. The city put $25 million in escrow while they tried to find a new owner for the team.

The NHL has had access to those funds since Sept. 15 but Julie Frisoni, a spokeswoman for the City of Glendale, confirmed Thursday the league has not made a single withdrawal. She also declined to talk about the Forbes report.

Badenhausen said the NHL doesn't want to "take a bath" on its investment in the Coyotes but if it truly wanted to maximize returns it would have sold the team to Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of Research in Motion, for $220 million last year and let him move the team to Hamilton.

"If they wanted the most money for a franchise they would play ball with him but clearly they don't want him as part of their club," he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 3, 2010 A11

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