Disclaimer: The comments in the blog are my personal opinion and may or may not reflect an adopted position of the city of Glendale and its city council.
In the February 11, 2017 edition of the Glendale Republic a Letter to the Editor from Larry Johns of Peoria proposed an interesting concept: “As an 11-year ticket holder, I certainly have experienced highs and lows.
“The recent plan to build a new home for the Arizona Coyotes with ASU in Tempe is dead. However, CEO Anthony LeBlanc still wants to ‘secure the future of hockey in Arizona.’ He also said that the team is ‘ready to invest more than $170 million in a new arena.’ Glendale still owns nearly $150 million on the Gila River Arena.
“My suggestion: LeBlanc and the Coyotes should offer to buy the GRA for $150 million and put another $20 million into repairs and upgrades. Glendale would be free of the remaining GRA debt payments; it would still have sales tax revenue coming from the use of the arena and could focus on paying down their other sports stadium obligations or improving Glendale’s infrastructure.
“The Coyotes would be free from their acrimonious relationship with Glendale, would have control of the arena and, most importantly, would remain in Arizona. Just a thought.”
Yes, it is just a thought but an intriguing one. As long as the Coyotes remain in their self-imposed limbo weekly rumors will continue to abound. This week’s crop related to a media report on Tuesday that the team had sent representatives to check out locations in both Portland and Seattle. Geoff Baker, a reporter for the Seattle times, tweeted, “Attendees at developer/owner #KeyArena tour by city 2 weeks ago shows no #arizonacoyotes reps among non-city staff/media. Coyotes deny going.” He backed up his assertion by posting the attendees sign in sheets for the tours.
Anthony LeBlanc, Coyotes CEO, was quick to deny the current relocation rumor with this Coyotes Press Release, “Recent reports by the Glendale Star that the Coyotes ownership group has explored arena options outside the Arizona market are completely false. The Star referenced an anonymous arena source and an anonymous Coyotes source, and these are a fabrication.” He went on to say, “Maybe a little less seriously because of the publication, but because it has gone national — which is disappointing — we take this seriously, as does the league.” The magic words in his denial are “as does the league.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has already demonstrated his commitment to keeping the team in Arizona by having the NHL manage the team for several years after Jerry Moyes declared bankruptcy of the team in 2009. The Phoenix Metropolitan media market is a highly lucrative one for the league. It’s a market the league does not want to abandon. Bettman’s other goal is to create a new franchise in the west. I suspect after a conversation with Bettman, LeBlanc couldn’t get to the media fast enough to deny rumors of relocation.
Denying rumors of relocation by LeBlanc is needed to quiet the fan base as well. Since the purchase of the team by IceArizona, average attendance figures have dropped like the proverbial stone and the team has earned the distinction of being the second lowest in the league with an average of 12,841 for the 2016-17 season. Only the Carolina Hurricanes have a lower attendance figure of 12,204. It should also be noted that their marketing efforts this season have been minimal. How many TV ads do you remember seeing this season?
LeBlanc points to these attendance figures as the reason why the team must move
to the East Valley. I would remind everyone that when the team made the play-offs attendance figures were robust. History shows no one complained about coming to Glendale to watch a winning team performing in the play offs. It certainly has a lot to do with the product on the ice. When the product is good, people will come. It’s the same for any sports franchise. When the team is hot and fan expectations are high, people come out of the woodwork to attend and suddenly tickets become very pricey.
All of this circles back to Mr. Johns of Peoria and his thought. If the Coyotes really do have money to play with…why not buy the Gila River Arena and become masters of their own fate? They characterize Glendale as inhospitable. Why? Because the city council didn’t want to continue subsidizing the team’s operations while losing money every year? The council simply wanted to stop bleeding each and every year and work toward insuring Glendale’s financial stability. It wasn’t, as portrayed, because they disliked the Coyotes and wanted to get rid of them. Keep in mind the city had its own problems in dealing with the ownership group which was often obstructionist, especially in sharing financial information.
If the ownership group really has $170 million dollars why wouldn’t it take the opportunity to buy the arena? Many suspect that the Coyotes really don’t have that kind of money without attracting a new crop of investors. Rumor has it that may be exactly what they are doing…seeking a new investor(s).
Can they strike a deal with Sarver? Doubtful. Can they strike a deal with the Salt River-Pima-Maricopa Indian Community? Doubtful. The painful lesson LeBlanc, et.al., are learning is that no one is willing to pay them to play…anywhere.
© Joyce Clark, 2017
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