The NHL may have postponed another round of games on Friday afternoon, but for fans of the Phoenix Coyotes, there still isn’t an ironclad guarantee that those games would have been played in Glendale anyway. The three year ownership saga that has become central to the team’s identity over that time is still going strong, and even recent developments still haven’t delivered the kind of affirmation that fans have been so desperately seeking.
According to several reports, former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison is nearing completion on the sale front itself, talking with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman last Monday. After rumors of financing issues over the summer, Jamison apparently has found enough investors for his bid to go forward, and his meeting with Bettman shows that there are at least positive steps being taken toward resolving the purchase of the team from the league.
On the opposite front, talks with the city of Glendale about tweaks to the lease agreement that had been hammered out over the summer are still ongoing. The city is planning to pay Jamison an arena management fee in order to offset potential losses associated with keeping the team in Arizona, but there have been changes made to the language of the agreement so that Glendale isn’t on the hook for as much money in the first five years of the 20-year arrangement. These tweaks would have to be voted on by the Glendale City Council, but with an election coming up in a few weeks, it seems unlikely that such a vote on a controversial issue would take place.
Speaking of that election, there is an initiative on the ballot in Glendale that is giving some pause to the proceedings. At stake is the fate of a temporary five-year sales tax increase that the city put into effect over the summer, and the ballot initiative, if passed, would reverse it. This would leave the arena deal with the Coyotes essentially dead, and likely torpedo efforts to seal the deal with Jamison.
Several members of the City Council have spoken out against the attempt to repeal the tax increase, saying that it would cause a huge problem with the budget for not just the Coyotes, but also for police, fire department, and other essential city services. If the vote fails, then everything would presumably get done in short order to get the team locked into being a tenant for the arena for years to come.
Regardless of the outcome of this election, fans of the team in Glendale, as well as fans of the NHL as a whole, deserve a resolution to this matter as promptly as possible. The league has taken huge steps in intervening throughout this whole process, even going so far as to contest the sale of the team to Jim Balsille in 2009 in a dispute over whether the league has the sole power to determine who is allowed to own teams.
After winning that case and purchasing the team from former owner Jerry Moyes, the league has since held stewardship over the club through two years of attempting to find a new owner to keep them in Phoenix. Bids from groups like Ice Edge holdings, as well as Chicago Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer have also failed. With Jamison, the league is hoping that they finally have found the right fit.
Throughout that entire process, fans in Arizona have been exceedingly patient, but they are getting understandably frustrated by all the drama surrounding the team. Attendance figures are still down despite the team making the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, and that has a large bit to do with the uncertainty over whether or not the team would be in the city past the end of the season. The NHL has indeed gone to heroic measures to keep the team in Phoenix, but at some point soon, enough finally has to be enough, and this team either needs to announce a new owner, or find someone who is going to buy the club and move it elsewhere.
It is often said that patience is a virtue, and while fans of the Coyotes have certainly embodied that maxim over the years, the same can also be said of other owners, who have watched the team continue to lose money while the NHL has been in control. Yes, that money is guaranteed to be paid back by the city of Glendale, but with a player lockout raging and the main point of contention being splitting up league revenues, it is hardly surprising that there has been some grumbling over keeping such a toxic asset on the books when there are other markets out there that could potentially do better than Phoenix.
So for those owners worried that this team will continue to lose money and bring the rest of the league down, and for fans who are anxiously awaiting word on whether or not their city will bring NHL hockey back, this situation needs to get resolved. Waiting until election returns come in on November 6th is all well and good, but after we find out whether the sales tax initiative passes or fails, then all hands need to be on deck for one final push to determine the future of this team in the desert.
Hopefully, the league and Jamison will get good news after the ballots are cast. If the city of Glendale is able to keep that revenue stream open, there is good reason for believing that the Coyotes could be a turnaround story of a similar caliber to that of the Chicago Blackhawks or Pittsburgh Penguins. They play within range of a large population in the fifth largest city in America, and they are going to benefit from the sports landscape in town as it currently stands. The Phoenix Suns’ main box office attraction has headed west to Los Angeles (Steve Nash), and the Arizona Cardinals are faltering after a hot start. Factor in the so-so results of the Arizona State Sun Devils, and you have a potential vacuum in terms of a team being able to dominate the sports landscape in this city.
You factor in the struggles of other teams, as well as the inevitable excitement that comes with a new owner, and you will find yourself with a potential gold mine with this hockey team. Fans everywhere, and this is especially true in Phoenix, come out when a team is winning, and with very reasonably priced tickets and an ownership group committed to keeping the team in Glendale, the Coyotes could go from punch line to success story in short order.
The time for wait and see is finally reaching its conclusion, and not a moment too soon for fans and executives alike. Will the Phoenix Coyotes still be in Arizona after the NHL lockout concludes? Hopefully we find out the answer sooner rather than later.
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.