December 13, 2010
Is Tuesday really the day for the Phoenix Coyotes?
Is it really the end of an ownership drama that's lingered from May 2009 to Dec. 2010; through bankruptcy and Bettman takeovers and court battles and relocation threats and one inexplicable playoff run with the flying snakes; through Moyes and Gretzky and Balsillie and the NHL and Reinsdorf and Ice Edge and True North, now, Matthew Hulsizer?
The City of Glendale will vote on Tuesday whether or not to hand over $197 million, over roughly six years, to Hulsizer, the Chicago investor who plans on buying the Coyotes from the NHL for $170 million. Glendale would pay Hulsizer's group $97 million to operate Jobing.com Arena, with the option to buy it; and $100 million to buy the parking rights from the team.
In return for Glendale's investment, Hulisizer would do the following, via the Arizona Republic:
- Keep the team in Glendale for the next 23 years, the remaining time the city has on its lease with the team. That's also the length of time the city still owes on its borrowing to build the arena.
- Pay the same amount of arena rent and fees to Glendale as previous owners, as much as $6 million a year.
- Work to rename the team the Arizona Coyotes.
Well, there's your problem: The good people of Flagstaff had no idea the Coyotes were their team, too! Problem solved!
Are there concerns that the city council might deny this deal, even if it's been agreed to in principle between perspective owner and city mayor? From the Globe & Mail:
In a statement released Friday after Hulsizer's proposal was made public, Glendale's council lamented the "devastating, negative economic impact" that losing the Coyotes would have on the city. However, it's unclear whether the steep price tag that Hulsizer's proposal comes with will fly.
The council statement bills the parking lot management of 5,500 spaces surrounding the arena as "a new revenue stream" that could eventually pay for the parking purchase rights. But accepting the deal would hike Glendale's debt on sports-related venues to more than $1-billion, including interest.
Coming up, what Coyotes fans, hockey pundits and Winnipeg loyalists are saying about the deal ... and what Hulsizer should do if he acquires the Coyotes this season.
Hulsizer has the blessing of the NHL Board of Governors. Ed Beasley, city manager for Glendale, wrote in his recommendation for the deal to be made that it would "position Glendale" to host the 2013 NHL All-Star Game.
His group's vision for expanding the fan base was endorsed by Yotes blog One Fan's Perspective, even if it might upset the diehards:
Not just Glendale, not just Phoenix, but he looked at the entire valley. I suggest that the "hard core" fans, whoever they might be, consider that aspect as well because it doesn't matter where the fans come from, just that they come. It doesn't matter if someone jumps on the wagon late, or those that have held season tickets since 1996 - what matters is that the fans come back and that they support the team that is set up for another run. And I think that they will.
Terry Frei of the Denver Post penned a provocative piece defending the NHL's support for Phoenix:
What is most galling in all of this is the selective memory of the proponents of relocation to the vacant Canadian markets, who inevitably also belittle U.S. markets for not filling arenas on a nightly basis. They conveniently forget all those empty and unsold seats in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa in the 1990s and even in some cases beyond, and also the ghost- town feeling in the arenas in the pseudo-Canadian markets of Detroit and Buffalo during franchise downturns. That even could be extended to Chicago and Boston. And with the Penguins back among the league's showcase franchises, with a palatial new arena, it's easy to ignore that they came so close to leaving town . . . several times.
To wave all of that off as ancient history, not applicable to today, is disingenuous.
In Glendale, the Coyotes play in a tremendous arena in an impressive area of suburban development, but they haven't yet convinced "enough" fans to fight the horrendous Phoenix traffic to get there on game nights. Perceived stability and commitment might help change that.
But the hard numbers cost for Glendale (re: taxpayers) remains problematic for others, like Josh Lobdell of the Inquisitr:
Instead of getting a tenant who would ya know pay rent and give the city some return on its investment, the city of Glendale is now doing whatever it can to keep the Coyotes in town and give their investment in the arena a chance. To be fair Hulsizer seems committed to building a winner, and has kicked in 25 million of his own money to help get a deal done.
With that being said, if the Coyotes cannot operate in Arizona without this kind of government subsidization they should not stay in Arizona. In is really that simple. The citizens should not have to keep handing out corporate welfare for a team that doesn't seem to be able to make any profit.
Meanwhile, Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press is emptying the clip as this option slips away for relocation and the return of the Jets:
Sour grapes? You bet. Winnipeg is ready and able and has done everything asked of it to regain an NHL franchise. But this is big-boy Monopoly and whining doesn't reach the ears of the NHL. Nor should it.
The NHL should make its decisions based on the best arrangement for the league. Gary Bettman wouldn't argue this and that's what makes this deal so befuddling.
Why in the name of Howie Morenz is the NHL willing to turn its back on a sure ownership group in Winnipeg for a "we're not even half in," arrangement in Arizona?
To protect the fan base of the Coyotes, you say. Baloney. They need to protect themselves and they haven't. End of discussion.
I'm sure we'll hear the league's spin on this deal sometime down the line and for the good people of Glendale we hope it works out and has a happy ending.
Hulsizer has been emphatic that the process is a long-term one, and the early returns might remain discouraging. That's why it would be inspiring (and inspired) to see his group make a splash immediately.
Some are already anticipating that the Coyotes will go with midrange, affordable, pedestrian acquisitions at the trade deadline. Factor in that Ilya Bryzgalov(notes) and Ed Jovanovski(notes) are free agents next summer, and the frugality might be even more understandable.
That said ... swing for the fences.
Land a huge contract; some big ticket rental that's a pending free agent. Send a message to the fans and to every pending free agent wondering what the golf's like in Glendale that it's not longer business as usual. That the Arizona Coyotes are a contending team in a way the Phoenix Coyotes frequently were not, because ownership finally gives a damn.
Assuming, of course, they become the owners. We've all seen this reach a climactic moment before, just to have it fall back into chaos. Tuesday will be a fascinating day.