The City of Glendale’s attempts to break its lease with the Arizona Coyotes is just the latest twist in the ongoing saga regarding the club’s uncertain future in the Arizona desert.
Since the Coyotes’ former ownership declared the club bankrupt in 2009, the team’s future in Glendale has never been stable. Attempts to relocate the club via outside interests were thwarted by the league, which took over temporary ownership. Prospective owners came and went until an ownership group calling itself IceArizona purchased the club (with the league’s blessing) in 2013. In October 2014, investor Andrew Barroway purchased a majority stake.
The addition of Barroway was supposed to ensure franchise stability in Glendale. However, the arena lease agreement was a bone of contention with the city council for some time. As per ABC 15 Arizona:
The city council’s vote was based on an Arizona statute that allows an agency to cancel a contract when an employee who was highly involved with the agreement becomes an agent or employee of the contract’s other party. Craig Tindall has served as general counsel to the Coyotes since 2013 after stepping down from his role as Glendale city attorney after the lease was approved.
However, the real reason has to do with the fact the city of Glendale is losing money on the lease agreement. They apparently suffered losses of around $8 million in the last fiscal year and are expecting to lose $8.7 million in the current FY.
So, does all this mean the Coyotes will start backing up the moving vans this summer to relocate to Las Vegas, Seattle or Quebec City? No. The league has released a statement claiming it expects the club will continue its operations in its current location. The team recently won a temporary restraining order against the city council, preventing it from breaking the lease and booking other entertainment options on days which would’ve been Coyotes home games during this fall and winter. The Coyotes ownership is promising a lawsuit, which by some estimates could be worth $200 million.
As long as the Coyotes ownership intends to fight the city council’s decision, the team will stay where it is. And let’s be clear, the council’s vote to break the lease is all about trying to force the team, and the league, to work out a better agreement so the city doesn’t keep losing money.
Without a new lease, the Coyotes’ future in Glendale remains uncertain because the current lease provides the team’s owners with an out-clause if total losses exceeded $50 million by 2018. Voting to break it could result in a new agreement, It could also speed up the process of relocation without going through the out-clause.
It’s possible this situation could be remedied via outside influences without going through the courts. It’s even possible the Coyotes could return to downtown Phoenix if a new arena, which the Coyotes could share with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, is constructed in the near future. Failing that, the Coyotes ownership could press through with the lawsuit, which could take a year or two to resolve.
Most NHL fans couldn’t care less about the fate of the Coyotes. Some pundits are calling for the team’s owners to just leave behind a city which seemingly doesn’t care about them and move on. Most NHL followers probably want the team relocated to what they consider a better hockey market. However, for the Coyote fans, and they do have them, and they do number more than a dozen or a few hundred or a couple of thousand, this is just a nightmare without end.
Just when they think stability has finally been achieved for their team, something happens to yank their hopes out from under them. Where’s the incentive for them to continue supporting a team which has no stable future in Glendale?
For the team, and I’m referring to the actual hockey people, from the front office to the coaches, players, trainers and other staff, this ongoing state of limbo has to be exhausting their patience.If you’re a player, how can you commit to a club long-term when you don’t know from one year to the next if they’re staying put? For management, how do you attract free-agent talent to a team which is constantly rumored to be on its way to another market?
As for the NHL headquarters, at what point do they finally decide to stop sinking money and effort into keeping the Coyotes in a market where the city council no longer wants them?
The Coyotes ownership, backed by the league, will probably win this fight against city council. But at what cost? And will it bring any guarantee the Coyotes will stay in Glendale or return to downtown Phoenix? With Quebec City and Kansas City already sporting NHL-ready arenas, and new ones either under construction or in the planning stage in Las Vegas and Seattle, what assurances do we have, apart from ownership and league rhetoric, that the Coyotes will remain in Arizona for the long term?
This has been a long-running soap opera and it shows no signs of stopping. The only thing that’s been accomplished is the Coyotes remain the poster child for critics who believe professional hockey can’t work in the American Sun Belt. If the Coyotes don’t get some sort of long-term security and stability soon, it could be only a matter of time before they end up proving that, in the state of Arizona, the critics were right.