No NHL season would be complete without rumors over the Arizona Coyotes‘ imminent departure from The Valley, and fans waking up Thursday morning were greeted with a report from TSN/Forbes Legal Analyst Eric Macramalla indicating the team’s ownership was looking to sell the team, “with the idea of buyer eventually moving team to a new arena in Houston.”
Not so fast.
The unsubstantiated claim was quickly rebuked by the team, per insider Craig Morgan.
Arizona is consistently the subject of sale/relocation rumors, whether it’s to Houston, Quebec City, or anywhere (literally) in between. To be fair, it’s easy to understand why these rumors have come up, considering the Coyotes still have no place to play next season, are in the midst of a “scorched earth” rebuild under general manager Bill Armstrong, and have never truly experienced any sort of sustained success since their arrival in the southwest prior to the 1996-97 season.
Take a breath, Coyotes fans. Even with the constantly swirling rumors, the true fact of the matter is it makes a lot more sense for the team to remain in Arizona.
Owner Alex Meruelo Has More Financial Incentive to Stay Put
Despite the reports from Forbes on Thursday morning, it makes far more sense for Meruelo to keep the team in Arizona purely from a financial standpoint, especially if its recent bid for a new arena in Tempe comes to fruition. The 57-year-old Cuban-American billionaire, who became the first Latino owner in the NHL when he purchased the team in June 2019, has every reason to hold onto the Coyotes long term.
For starters, let’s look at the $1.7 billion proposal from Meruelo and his team on the parcel of land in Tempe, in which the Coyotes envision becoming an entire entertainment district. Even at face value, it’s easy to see why the new deal would be attractive to ownership — Meruelo owns a construction company, and could essentially pay himself to develop and see the project through to fruition, all while leveraging private investors instead of public money for the initiative. (From, ‘Exclusive look at Arizona Coyotes’ proposal for Tempe arena and entertainment district,’ azcentral.com, Sept. 20, 2021).
According to the proposal itself, the only public funds would be used for land remediation (the site is currently a waste dump), which is estimated presently to cost around $70 million. If the plan ultimately comes to fruition, there’s a huge sum of money for Meruelo and Co. make.
Beyond that, the recent legalization of sports betting in Arizona means Meruelo has obtained a sports betting license within the state, and though it’s not currently working with any third-party operating partner, will have the flexibility to leverage that in the future. Needless to say, Coyotes’ ownership is sitting on a goldmine, even if the team isn’t performing particularly well at the moment.
Ownership Has Previously Communicated its Commitment to Arizona
Thursday’s statement via Morgan hardly comes as a surprise, and is in line with the message the organization has communicated time and time again: It is committed to hockey in The Valley. Sure, no one is privy to conversations that take place behind closed doors, but taking it one step further NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has never wavered on his stance regarding hockey in Arizona.
“First of all, I don’t think the Coyotes franchise is going anywhere,” Bettman said this past summer. “I think the City of Glendale is negotiating. There’s no secret that Alex Meruelo, who is the owner of the Coyotes, is looking at his options to build a new arena somewhere else in greater Phoenix.”
The former point in Bettman’s statement is perhaps the team’s biggest obstacle in the immediate future, as the city of Glendale indicated prior to the start of the 2021-22 season that this would be the team’s last at Gila River Arena. That however, is an obstacle regardless of the Coyotes’ location in North America, because Thursday’s tweet from the Forbes report indicates “the buyer eventually moving the team to a new arena in Houston.” That statement alone offers no resolution to where Arizona would play its games beginning in the 2022-23 season and beyond, and is as speculative of a statement as one can provide.
In fact, the Coyotes have plenty of options for temporary housing in The Valley until a permanent arena can be found. Though the most likely option here is the team and Glendale ultimately come to a new agreement to remain at Gila River Arena in the short term, there are plenty of other locations that could work, including Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum (but it would require extensive renovations) or Footprint Center (currently home to the NBA’s Phoenix Suns), among other places.
Though it’s tough to take anything in this day and age at face value, the Coyotes have been more engaged and visible in the Arizona community than ever before, and there’s no reason to believe they’re going anywhere, sans rumors.
The Future of Hockey in The Valley
The bottom line here is no one — players, fans, or even NHL insiders — have any idea what the team’s management is currently thinking. However, given Meruelo’s track record of wanting to own a professional sports team (he unsuccessfully tried to purchase the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks in 2011), it doesn’t make any sense for ownership to sell at this point. Simply put, the Coyotes are just starting their journey into what was visualized when they were purchased two years ago.
So, for now, relax, Coyotes fans, and take this news (and the inevitable future relocation rumors) in stride. Hockey is almost assuredly staying in the Phoenix area for years to come — even if the team’s future building has yet to be determined.
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A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.