Coyotes, Glendale Settle Differences

The strange and bizarre transformation took but a matter of minutes to repair.

From fierce adversaries to congenial partners, the city of Glendale and the Arizona Coyotes are now best friends. That essentially means IceArizona, the entity which owns the Coyotes, is free to operate in the Gila River Arena for the next two years without distractions.

On Friday morning, the Glendale, Ariz. city council, the municipality of the Gila River Arena and home rink of the Coyotes, voted unanimously to rescind the June 10 vote which directed the city manager to cancel the management agreement it had with IceArizona. That agreement was signed two years ago, and called for a 15-year arrangement in which the city would pay, over the course of the agreement, $225 million to Ice Arizona for management of the arena.

Now, the city and the Coyotes ripped up the existing agreement, kissed, made up and put a new deal in place. For their part, the Coyotes said they would not renegotiate the existing agreement and the city said the agreement was not in the interest of the taxpayers.

In the end, an accord was reached and both parties appear satisfied with the result.

“Right now, I’m more relieved than anything,” said Coyotes president Anthony LeBlanc after the council meeting Friday morning. “We would like to see the new agreement longer than two years, and that was a surprise.”

From the city’s perspective, the two-year agreement was reasonable and measured.

“The two years gives us an opportunity to work out a longer deal,” said Jerry Weiers, the Glendale mayor. “This is a win-win situation for the Coyotes and for the taxpayers of Glendale.”

Martin Hanzal of the Arizona Coyotes [photo: Amy Irvin]
Martin Hanzal of the Arizona Coyotes [photo: Amy Irvin]
The exchange of roses was not the norm for the past half-decade. That’s because the city and the hockey club were at repeated odds on forging a reasonable working relationship which would benefit the hockey club and the taxpayers of Glendale, Ariz.

Contentious and combative could best describe the relationship between the Coyotes and the city. Now, that appears to be history, and the parties seem genuinely agreeable to forge ahead together.

If the new agreement was not in place, the city and Coyotes were to meet next Friday in Maricopa County, Arizona Superior Court. That’s the venue where the Coyotes challenged the city to honor its financial obligation of $9 million a year to IceArizona.

Now, the parties reached a compromise.

A New Deal In Place

Instead of a 15-year deal at $225 million, it’s for two years, and LeBlanc said repeatedly that the Coyotes do not plan to leave Glendale after the two-year period. One report has the city of Phoenix interested in building a new downtown arena for the Coyotes and the NBA Suns.

As well, LeBlanc indicated the Coyotes have no interest to relocate to downtown Phoenix or elsewhere in North America.

“We had an opportunity to leave this summer and did not go,” he said. “We’re committed to Glendale and to our passionate hockey fans.”

The ideal situation for the Coyotes and the city would be to engage in a long-term, productive relationship, LeBlanc pointed out.

“It’s time to turn the page,” LeBlanc said. “No one benefits from looking in the past. Right now, I would like to propose to the city that we meet on a regular basis and stay in touch. It’s vital to keep open the lines of communication.”

For the last several months, the Coyotes said they would not renegotiate the previous 15-year agreement. Yet, events forced their hands.

Sitting in the Coyotes war room when free agency commenced on July 1, LeBlanc said potential free agents had no interest in playing for the Coyotes. That’s because of the protracted conflict with the city and uncertainty of the franchise.

The key factor for the organization, LeBlanc pointed out, was the Coyotes inability to sign forward Mikkel Bodeker to a long-term contact. Boedker expressed concern over the uncertainty of the franchise, and that was the deciding factor in signing Boedker only for the coming season.

“When we could not sign Boedker for longer than one year, the management team got together and said something has to be done,” LeBlanc said. “That’s when we wanted to make our situation more attractive to free agents and players possibly coming in trades.”

Shane Doan (Photo by Andy Martin Jr)

In the end, there were significant changes to the city/hockey landscape.

Aside from the two-year deal, the $9 million year payout to IceArizona was reduced to $6.5 million yearly. The difference in compensation for the Coyotes will be made up with different revenue outlets, such as a greater slice of concessions and parking.

The two-year agreement expires on June 30, 2017, and at that time, the city can terminate all clauses and agreements with the Coyotes. That includes IceArizona managing Gila River Arena.

It’s the desire of the city to eventually run the arena, but as Weiers pointed out, “we have no experience in that area.”

For the Coyotes, the ideal situation would pay the city $500,000, which they currently pay, in yearly rent and just play hockey. The city could then outsource to a management company and effectively operate the arena. In a sense, that was the conclusion of the parties after Friday’s council session.

Yet, the two-year window arrives shortly and the Coyotes hope Weiers’ “cooling off” period between the parties acts as an intelligent conduit to finalize a long-term agreement.

As if rose pedals now sprinkled the floor of the city council chamber, vice-mayor Ian Hugh encouraged “fans to buy their season tickets,” he said. “Hockey is here to stay in Glendale.”

Follow Mark Brown on twitter, @journalist193