The Phoenix Soap Opera Must End


Ever since Jerry Moyes put the Phoenix Coyotes into bankruptcy in May 2009, the drama surrounding this NHL team and its ownership has been non-stop. We went through a long, protracted court battle between Jim Balsillie and the NHL, with the league eventually decided as the “winner”, and purchased the team from an Arizona bankruptcy court for $140 million.

We then saw the league refuse to make payments of nearly $15 million in a contract the team had with Wayne Gretzky, who was the Head Coach and part owner of the Coyotes prior to bankruptcy. Stiffing the greatest player in hockey history led to him to withdraw from an active role in the NHL in recent years, and the loss of hockey’s most recognizable ambassador cannot be good for the league.  Actually, it’s awful.

The NHL then brought in Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls and MLB’s Chicago White Sox, as a potential purchaser of them team. After negotiating a period of exclusivity with the NHL, Reinsdorf examined the team’s books and ultimately decided not to purchase the ailing franchise.  Whew!

Soon after we had the Ice Edge Holdings fiasco, where a small and basically start-up company was given exclusive negotiation rights with the NHL. The company was able to strike a sweetheart lease deal in the City of Glendale, but were unable to come up with the capital to buy the team. Simple investigations into Ice Edge should have revealed that these guys had little money, and not a hope of raising the necessary capital to buy the team, yet still the charade played on.

After several months with no offers on the table, and the City of Glendale subsidizing the team to the tune of $50 million over two seasons, a third white knight potential owner emerged in the form of Matthew Hulsizer, a Chicago businessman looking to get into the sports ownership business. A further tentative lease deal (contingent on him buying the team) was signed with the City of Glendale, and the City and Hulsizer worked together to sell bonds to fund his purchase of the team.

The bond sale resulted in threats of court action by the Goldwater Institute, who believed that the city was breaking the Arizona Constitution by funding a private enterprise. Bond sales were flat and Hulsizer was unable to fund the purchase. He pulled out of the deal, and began looking for another team to buy.

Bill Daly and Gary Bettman were undeterred by several months with little progress. In the end they brought in another potential owner in Greg Jamison. He signed another tentative lease with Glendale City Council, a deal that will expire today if he does not have the capital to purchase the team.

Oh, but here’s the next twist…. back in November, after giving Jamison the sweetheart deal the incumbent city council, who were very favourable to the Coyotes, were almost unanimously booted in the elections. The new council was not so friendly to the hockey team and have made it very clear they will honour the deal of their predecessors as long as Jamison buys the team by today. However, they will not extend the deal one second longer, and if this deal does not close, any future lease agreements for the arena will not be so favourable to the team.

With all that said, reports are that Jamison has not secured the funding. The deal (as it sits) is dead. He is hopeful of making another deal with the NHL and the City, but the words of new may Jerry Weiers are extremely ominous, and future leases will make it very difficult for the Coyotes to make money.

Meanwhile, this has all gone on while the Coyotes were putting a good hockey team on the ice. Playoffs in 2011 and a hard fought 7-game opening round loss to the Red Wings packed the building. Playoffs in 2012 and a trip to the Conference Finals also saw a packed arena.

However, the momentum is not lasting. The Coyotes are the worst team in the league in attendance this season with just over 12,000 fans on average, nearly 3,000 below the next closest team. The mid-week numbers are even worse as the Coyotes are averaging just 9,000 fans a game. This is for a good hockey team, and with tickets at dirt cheap prices.

The saga has dragged on for four years. It is long past the point where it has become an embarrassment to the league, and it is painfully obvious that there just is no appetite to support the team in an arena that was built in a crazy location far outside of downtown Phoenix, and with a clogged highway as the only realistic route to the games. This location may work in the NFL where all the games are on the weekends, but Glendale is just not suitable for NHL hockey. Its time for Gary Bettman to show some humility, to admit failure, and to move the team out of Arizona into a city that will better support NHL hockey, and to an owner with deep pockets.  Ahem, Southern Ontario, Quebec City, and Seattle we’re looking at you guys.

It’s time to solve this situation once and for all. Glendale has had four kicks at this can, and we thought it was 3 strikes and you’re out.

And that’s the last word.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave your comments below. You can follow me on twitter @lastwordBkerr or follow the site @lastwordonsport.

Main photo credit: 5of7 via photopin cc


  1. All of this going on at the same time rumblings are surfacing about two “expansion” teams being considered by the league. As much as I agree with all you said about, at least for Southern Ontario whether it be Markham, Toronto, Hamilton or Kitchener/Waterloo and Quebec City, I am sure the league would much prefer to put expansion clubs in these markets and gain the hefty expansion prices rather than allow an owner to buy a bankrupt club and only pay transfer fees to move them to big markets.

    That said, Kansas City, Seattle and a number of other smaller markets have come up each time when a team cries financial hardship and threatens to move. I think Betmen can save a little face by agreeing with you above that 4 kicks at the can is enough in Glendale, but then moving the team to another US market that might actually make a run at it. Heck, he gave PHX 4 kicks at the can, maybe he will sent the Yotes to Atlanta and give them another shot…

    • I agree that they are looking at expansion in two markets.

      That said I see at least three markets…. (Southern Ontario, Seattle, and Quebec City) clamoring for a team.

      Plus other markets like Kansas City, and Las Vegas (with the tourists, I think they can do a lot better than Phoenix. Casinos buy tickets and give them away to high rollers). There is room for a move + expansion.

      • I can see it now, Shenia Twain at Caesars Palace, Cirque at the Bellagio and now introducing the newest show on the strip, the Yotes at the ….. (fill in the blank)

        All joking asside I can see your point on the money being there, the team would just need a great promoter.

  2. Notice how the team was not good, the surrounding sport teams (Suns, Cardinals) were elite teams in their respective sports, had a celeb in their bench coaching their teams and managed to have a 14-15k fan average. This also was during the years leading up to the NHL lockout, and the 2-3 years after the lockout where hockey was just starting to re-grow

    The league had to then own the Coyotes, Gretzky gone, became a playoff team and actually a strong Western team that just made the WCF, and the surrounding sports teams are now also having issues…

    So could their recent struggles to sell seats have anything to do with the fact that the NHL owns them. Well i believe so and thats why I am happy the league is out of the loop and a new owner has arrived.

    Give it a few games for the yotes to be back up to speed, heck I even say give it a full year for fans to get real marketing and hockey to re-grow from the lockout bump for the Yotes to once again increase their avg att

    • The problem is the league isn’t out of the loop.

      The new owner hasn’t arrived.

      For the fourth time, the purchase has fallen through. Jamison didn’t get enough investors. The Deal with the City is off.

      And so 4 tries to sell the team, four failures. No one wants to own a team in Phoenix. No investors will get behind it. There is no money. The league has to end this charade.

  3. Who will take on the franchise in Seattle? The last I heard was that the head of the group that is proposing to build the joint NBA/NHL complete in Seattle has dropped his interest in an NHL (now I believe he would love to have an NHL team sign a lease in his new facility for big bucks I am sure), so who buys the team and then pays big rent for a new facility in an unproven market?

    I am not saying it wont happen, and you are right, at this point anything is better than Glendale, but the league also has to be careful not to just move a problem to another city where it will just become the new cities problem.