NHL approves sale of Arizona Coyotes to Utah Jazz owner


April 18 (UPI) -- The Arizona Coyotes are moving to Salt Lake City after NHL's Board of Directors on Thursday approved the team's sale to a new owner.

The team's assets, including its reserve list, roster of players and draft picks, were sold to Smith Entertainment Group, led by Ashley and Ryan Smith, who own the Utah Jazz NBA team.

Smith Entertainment purchased the team's assets for $1.2 billion, with $1 billion going to Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo and $200 million earmarked as a relocation fee to be split among existing NHL owners.

While the sale renders the Coyotes franchise inactive, Meruelo retains the team's logos, marks and branding, as well as the right to reactivate the franchise if he can construct a new facility that fits NHL standards in five years.

The Coyotes spent the past two seasons at the less-than-ideal, 4,600-seat Mullett Arena on the campus of Arizona State University.

Meruelo in a statement said it was "simply unfair" to players, coaches and stakeholders to keep playing in an arena that isn't suitable to host NHL games.

"But this is not the end for NHL hockey in Arizona," Meruelo said in a statement. "I have negotiated the right to reactivate the team within the next five years, and have retained ownership of the beloved Coyotes name, brand and logo.

"I remain committed to this community and to building a first-class sports arena and entertainment district without seeking financial support from the public."

The sale comes after Tempe voters last year rejected three proposals to build a $2.1 billion entertainment district that would have included a new home for the Coyotes.

The team just weeks ago announced a plan to bid on state land in northern Phoenix to build the entertainment district. That auction was set for June 27.

"The NHL's belief in Arizona has never wavered," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "We thank Alex Meruelo for his commitment to the franchise and Arizona, and we fully support his ongoing efforts to secure a new home in the desert for the Coyotes. We also want to acknowledge the loyal hockey fans of Arizona, who have supported their team with dedication for nearly three decades while growing the game."

Ryan Smith began courting Bettman to bring an NHL franchise to Utah in 2022 and formally invited the league to open an expansion process in January, saying at the time he was ready to host a team out of Salt Lake City as soon as the 2024-25 season.

Once the sale was approved, former Coyotes players and staff were invited to Salt Lake City to tour the facilities and get a feel for the region.

The new Utah team will have to create its own logos, marks and branding, but Smith has indicated he isn't in a hurry, even if the team starts the upcoming season without a nickname.