Jim Neveau, THW Roving Reporter
As a matter of disclosure, I would like to point out that I have long been a proponent of hockey staying in the desert. I have written several articles about how the NHL needed to give the Valley of the Sun a chance to sustain the team before cutting ties and letting the Coyotes move. I have advocated patience, implored fans in Arizona to support their local hockey team, and pretty much chained myself to a tree to defend the existence of the Coyotes in Glendale.
With all of that being said, however, the story emerging about the city of Glendale having issues with Ice Edge’s bid for the team are deeply disturbing. This bidding process for the team has been beset by various issues since it began, and has seen everything from a judge tossing out the highest bid for the team (Jim Balsillie’s bid to move the team to Hamilton) to Jerry Reinsdorf coming in, then going out, coming in again, and going out again in his efforts to buy the team. It has been a drama-filled saga, and with these newest reports, it seems as though it will continue.
These reports, which surfaced on Monday night, seem to indicate that the city of Glendale has not gotten all of the necessary reports relating to the financing of the deal to purchase the Coyotes from Ice Edge Holdings. Ice Edge is disputing that it hasn’t given the city the reports, and the two sides have a self-imposed deadline of August 6th looming over their heads for the sale of the team to be finalized.
For the full report on the story, you can visit the Arizona Republic‘s website, but in the meantime, the possibility of relocation because of this snag in the deal needs to be discussed. The reality of this situation can be summed up very briefly:
The Phoenix Coyotes need to move to a new city.
This is hardly a new concept, but it is a fact that cannot be ignored any longer. With league revenues slowing because of the poor economic state of the country, the NHL simply cannot afford to sustain a team that is struggling. The absence of a committed fan base (and the cash it brings in) used to be the death knell of a franchise. Teams from the Kansas City Scouts to the Hartford Whalers have been done in by this reality, and the Coyotes should be no different.
In years past, the league has been roundly criticized for not doing more to save teams from relocation when financial issues threatened to move the franchises. Winnipeg and Quebec fans are some of the most vocal about this lack of assistance, and while their views on the subject of the Coyotes are certainly tainted by their thirst for a return of hockey to their cities, their points are not without merit.
The Phoenix Coyotes moved to the desert in 1996, after ownership issues forced them out of Winnipeg. Ever since the team has moved to the Valley, they have not turned a profit in a single season. Even last year, with the prospect of losing the team if they didn’t start coming to games (and with a competitive team on the ice), the attendance in Arizona lagged considerably behind league averages. Attendance for the Coyotes was down nearly 20% from the year before, and that number includes a string of sell-outs to end the season.
Only when the playoffs were in sight did fans start coming out to the arena, but there is no reason to believe that the folks who made their way out to Jobing.Com Arena will continue to do so when the season opens in October. The economy isn’t any better, and fans in Arizona tend to be relatively fickle when it comes to supporting their sports teams. In an era of unprecedented scrutiny over discretionary spending on the part of consumers, sports simply don’t rank high enough on the list for shelling out hard earned dollars, and no where is this more apparent than in the Valley.
This is not to say that this lack of support is an indictment of the local sports fans in Phoenix. The simple fact is that they are mostly a collection of vagabonds, coming from places all over the United States, and they bring their sports allegiances with them. Until the team has been around long enough to spawn a generation of its own fans (see the Phoenix Suns), the sporting public in the state will tend to support the team from back home.
This undeniable fact has worked against the Coyotes from the beginning, as fans of more established franchises like the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks consistently outnumber the fans of the ‘Yotes who show up at the games.
With a fan base that the team has a hard time energizing, and with attendance numbers and TV ratings still ranking amongst the worst in the league, the issues Ice Edge is apparently having in getting their numbers together may be a blessing in disguise for the league and for the team. If this deal ends up falling through, and the team is cast back into the limbo that it found itself mired in prior to last season, then the league owes it to the other 29 franchises to pull the plug on this experiment in team saving, and allow the Coyotes to be moved to another city.
The NHL has done everything within its power to keep the team in the desert. Gary Bettman, for all of the flak he has taken throughout his tenure as head honcho of the league, really put his neck on the line for this team, and his efforts, while seemingly in vain, have not gone unnoticed. Never again will the league simply stand aside and let a team flounder its way into an abyss. Instead, the league has set a precedent that they will try to help save ailing franchises in the cities that they are in, and for that fans of the NHL should be happy.
The city of Glendale, and the team itself, has been afforded every conceivable opportunity to save the Coyotes and keep them in the Valley, but if Ice Edge can’t get its act together, then this story should be the end of the line. While the ideal situation isn’t to have to move a franchise, there are times when it is absolutely necessary. In the case of the Coyotes, we may finally be at the point where the league needs to cleanse its hands of this problem once and for all.
James started out for The Hockey Writers covering the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, and has also covered the Chicago Blackhawks, served as NHL Correspondent, and is now a Managing Editor and the site’s NHL Central Blogger. He also writes for The Golf Writers.