The Arizona Coyotes moved into their new arena in 2003. It has had a couple of name changes, and is currently called Gila River arena. The team played in a downtown arena to start play in 1996, where the Phoenix Suns called home. But a new arena was planned, and the city of Glendale (a northwest suburb of Phoenix) stepped in and ran with the ball (or puck in this case). Scottsdale failed to put together an arena plan in a timely manner. The Glendale mayor even threw in free parking to sweeten the prospective deal. It worked and the Coyotes have been in Glendale ever since. The problem lies that the city built the arena at a cost of $183 million it borrowed. They pay about $13 million a year towards the debt.
Arizona Coyotes Arena Challenges Are Still an Issue
It seemed that the majority of the die-hard Coyotes’ fans live in the east valley area. The commute was a bear, especially on weeknights. The consequences of not being able to get those fans to the arena has been a never ending challenge for the hockey franchise.
While the club has also had its share of ownership problems including a bankruptcy six years after they started playing in Glendale, they finally now have strong ownership. New owner Alex Meruelo is a billionaire and has owned the team over a year now. He is known to have taken over failing businesses and turning them profitable.
He will have quite a job doing that with the Coyotes. They are still struggling financially with arena rent going past due and player’s contract bonuses not being paid on time. It must be noted that every NHL (as well as other pro sports) has suffered extensive losses due to lack of fan attendance caused by COVID-19.
Glendale received $837,000 towards their due amount, but is was was well short of the expected $1 million; and it was three months late. What’s worse is due to the pandemic their cut may drop to just $641,000 by the end of the fiscal year in June.
City of Glendale Wants The Coyotes to Sign a Long Term Arena Lease
Kevin Phelps, the Glendale City Manager sent a letter to the Coyotes and ASM Global which manages the Gila River arena. He stated the year-to-year lease arrangement has been a strain in the city, including the team and the management company. Phelps then followed that up in November attempting to acquire a lease commitment of at least 12 years, but more significantly 15-18 years.
While the city is still in negotiations with the team, nothing has been decided yet. Rich Nairn, a Coyotes spokesman stated that the team is working with the city on next steps. He also mentioned the Coyotes have a great partnership with the city of Glendale.
So, what most every Coyotes’ fan would like to know is does this FINALLY mean the chatter and rumours of the team leaving the valley can finally be put to bed? Perhaps. Yet, what happened to Mr. Meruelo stating in June that that the team was looking at possible sites for a new arena. He also said we would learn about that possibility by the end of the year.
Now that hasn’t happened and again with the pandemic it’s a whole new world order now. The Coyotes weren’t the only team letting employees go due to economic downfall at the gates. NHL hockey is a gate driven sport. When the pandemic hit most teams lost a minimum of $1 million per game not played.
Now, they’re going to be limited to less than normal seating capacity for games starting in a couple of weeks. Some locations won’t have fans. The Coyotes have expressed that they will allow some fans but it will under strict health guidelines to keep everyone safe.
All Indications Are That a New Arena is a Pipedream
Even though east valley hockey fans may have been rubbing their hands together with high wishes of a nearby arena… that may not happen. Consider the construction time needed to build such an edifice. It could take two-three years to complete even with conducive weather conditions.
It seems Mr. Meruelo has been quite quiet about talk of a new arena and can you blame him? He didn’t become a billionaire making irrational business decisions. He remains hopeful that he can attract more Hispanic fans to the games. That has yet to be proven, but he also seems quite open to keeping the team in Glendale. The city, of course doesn’t want to lose a tenant who provides at least 45 events a year.
Don’t forget that they have the debt of building the arena facing them every day. For the Coyotes’ players they just need a place to play and draw fans to support the club.
How The Possible Loss of The Coyotes Would Affect Glendale Area
Will it be Glendale, or are we about to experience even more drama? If that’s even possible. If the team relocated to another area of the Phoenix area, the surrounding businesses in the Westgate area would suffer extreme economic losses. Even with concerts in Gila River arena when the pandemic has been controlled, that will not be as much of a revenue booster as Coyotes’ games.
Even worse, if the city and the team can’t come to an agreement, will the team up and move elsewhere? Not according to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, but he’s got lots of other issues to concern himself with… like trying to help the league survive in the midst of a pandemic.
Whether the Arizona Coyotes become the Houston Coyotes or not, the NHL will go on… even in a pandemic.