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 Jobing.com 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 Jobing.com 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.