Disclaimer: The comments in this blog are my personal opinion and may or may not reflect an adopted position of the city of Glendale and its city council.

The very first owner of the Coyotes to land in Glendale was Steve Ellman. Ellman bought the team from Richard Burke in 2001. How did Ellman end up in Glendale for he dearly wanted to be in Scottsdale? When Scottsdale rejected the idea, Ellman went shopping, looking for cheap land for his grand vision of a hockey arena to be surrounded by commercial/retail to compliment the arena. I remember at the time, early 2000s, staff indicated to city council that they wanted to show Ellman the old Valley West Mall parcel at 59th Avenue and Northern Avenue as a possible site. Council gave the go-ahead. Staff took him on a helicopter ride over Glendale. When Ellman saw the Valley West Mall site he said it would never work because the arterial roads would not be able to handle the anticipated traffic. On that same fateful visit he saw all of the agricultural land adjacent to the Loop 101 and said that was his preference for a site.

When staff reported back to council with Ellman’s feedback, I was aghast. I was not supportive of a hockey arena in Glendale. In an effort to perhaps kill the deal, I insisted that Ellman be tied to Valley West Mall in a redevelopment project. I thought he would balk and walk away. I was wrong. He agreed to redevelop Valley West Mall and did so. The hockey arena would be built.

Ellman never engaged with Glendale or worked to develop a real relationship as a partner. Who knows why? I don’t. The city tried to engage him, but nothing ever developed. Ellman was very successful in booking major recording artists into the arena during his ownership tenure. I remember in particular, seeing Bette Midler, among others, perform there in the arena’s early years.

Jerry Moyes, Swift Trucking Company owner, became the team’s second owner when Ellman sold the team to him in 2005.  Moyes, a businessman, appeared to many observers, to take little interest in the team. There were also rumors that he was reluctant to invest in the team. He, too, never engaged with Glendale to build a mutually successful partnership. In 2008, Moyes declared bankruptcy and after a yearlong legal battle, the NHL took ownership of the team in 2008, according to bankruptcy court documents.

In essence, the NHL became the team’s 3rd owner in the space of 8 years. The NHL was merely a caretaker for the team while they desperately tried to acquire a new owner. I remember there were 4 or 5 entities in the race to buy the team. The one that impressed me the most was Greg Jamison. He was a true gentleman and eager to create that long missing partnership with Glendale. He had tons of hockey knowledge and experience due to his many years with the San Jose Sharks. He knew what it would take to put a good team on the ice. He put together a consortium of investors willing to invest their own money rather than saddle themselves with enormous debt but unfortunately, he was out maneuvered by one Anthony LeBlanc, one of Jamison’s very own investors and soon to become the new owner.

The 4th owners became Ice Arizona, led by George Gosbee/Anthony LeBlanc in 2013. The trouble with this ownership group was money. LeBlanc et. al., used very little of their own.  They borrowed nearly all the purchase price from various institutions and even got a loan of $70 million from the NHL. They were always cash poor. To observers it appeared as if they were a group of guys who got together to acquire a new play toy. They seemed to revel in owning a hockey franchise but when it came to creating a great product on the ice, they were not very adept. Again, no partnership with Glendale ever developed.

Andrew Barroway was one of the original Ice Arizona partners. By 2016, he acquired a majority interest in ownership and became the 5th owner of the Coyotes. I never met Mr. Barroway and I’m not sure anyone on city council ever met him either. I have no idea as to whether he was good or bad for the team. But, again, no partnership with the city ever developed. He seems to have been an absentee owner.

Which leads us to the latest and 6th owner of the Coyotes. In 2019, Alex Meruelo bought the team. I have never met Mr. Meruelo and only know that he is a successful businessman. From the day of his purchase he has publicly stated, along with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, that Glendale will not be a part of the Coyotes future and he planned to actively pursue a new location. Obviously, there has been no development of a partnership with the city.

How does the Coyotes saga of ownership compare with other Valley Sports teams? Here’s a graphic that depicts the string of ownerships of all of our teams:

The multiple ownerships in Coyotes history would appear to play a significant part in its ability to become a successful team. A string of different owners with their own agendas did nothing to stabilize the team and to create a successful product on the ice.

I, and the city, harbor no ill will toward Mr. Meruelo. He has made what he believes to be his best business decision to create a successful team. I respect that. In my next blog, I will comment on why retaining the Coyotes is not the best business model for Glendale.

The long-held myth has always been that Glendale was not a good site because the fan base is in the East Valley. I don’t necessarily buy into the myth. If that were the case, the Cardinals would never successfully fill their stadium, game after game.

I remember attending a West Valley economic summit years ago. The one comment made by the featured speaker, Elliot Pollack, a well-respected Arizona economist, was that Glendale was destined to become the geographic center of the Valley. As each year passes, this concept comes closer and closer to reality. West Valley cities, such as Buckeye, Avondale, Litchfield Park, Surprise and Peoria are all experiencing population explosions. At some point, the West Valley’s population will surpass that of the East Valley’s. That appears to be coming to fruition now. As the media have reported, Buckeye and Goodyear are both among the 10 fastest-growing cities in the United States. Buckeye has grown faster than any city in the country as its population grew in the last decade by 80%. There is the potential explosion of a fan base in the West Valley, but a team must work to cultivate it. All the team’s past owners failed to do so.

Another concept never fully appreciated is that we are primarily a population that moved here from somewhere else. I came from New Jersey. Over the years, I have overwhelmingly met “transplants” as opposed to native Arizonans. We came here with team favorites already encoded into our DNA and it’s difficult to embrace a new team as one’s favorite, especially when there is no compelling reason to do so.

We are “fair weather fans.” What would constitute a compelling reason to become an avid fan? It’s pretty obvious. A good team…a winning team. Witness the Suns and their recent run for the basketball championship. Everyone wanted to attend a game and tickets were selling like hotcakes at exorbitant prices. Every time the Coyotes were in the playoffs for the Stanley Cup, the fans came out selling out the arena and the “White Out” was born. There was no talk of East Valley fans vs. West Valley fans.

I am not trying to sell the notion of the Coyotes remaining in Glendale. That ship has sailed. It is not in our best business interest for the Coyotes to remain and the city has stated repeatedly that its decision is not a negotiating ploy. I just wanted to highlight other factors that are contributory to poor attendance.

The old saying, “build it and they will come” is still a valid statement but with a jaded society with so many entertainment choices, it’s incumbent upon every sports team to create a compelling reason for a consumer to spend what is often a great deal of money to attend a sporting event. The Coyotes, under a series of confusing ownerships, never created a compelling reason to become an avid hockey fan.

© Joyce Clark, 2021       


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