It took a while longer than I had anticipated, but we have more news regarding the continued troubles of the Phoenix Coyotes, arguably the most beleaguered franchise in major North American sports. As I already covered previously, the Yotes have been experiencing setback after setback during their brief history in the Arizona desert. Recently though, things appeared to finally be going in the right direction for the team, as they finally returned to the playoffs again last year, the franchise had reached an important refinancing deal that saw the city of Glendale assume a significant portion of the team’s debt, and the NHL was finally beginning to make a move on selling the team to an attractive ownership group headed up by Matthew Hulsizer, the head of a Chicago-based securities firm that has had a long interest in hockey. The combination of Hulsizer’s deep pockets and Glendale’s willingness to not only adopt a $100 million bond issue to absorb most of the team’s debts, but also pay any potential buyer $197 million over six years to keep the team in Glendale, seemed to be a major turning point in keeping the Coyotes in Arizona. For the first time, it would actually be financially possible for the team to turn a profit.
However, the Glendale bond issue proved to be immediately controversial amongst a significant segment of the local conservative population, as many area residents were opposed to using public funds to finance the team, especially as so many of them had been unwilling to even support the team at all during their years in the desert. In response, the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, an organization that has long derided the use of any public monies to fund private sports teams, has threatened to file suit against the bond issue by claiming that it actually broke state law. This threat has effectively paralyzed the NHL’s negotiations with Hulsizer to the point where it is now actively feared that the continued opposition to the bond issue could cause him to pull out of the negotiations in the same fashion that Jerry Reinsdorf (owner of the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls) did the previous year. The mayor of Glendale, Elaine Scruggs, recently held a press conference in which she called for the Goldwater Institute to stop their legal threats and that their continued opposition could cause the entire deal to fall apart (which is exactly what the Goldwater Institute wants).
Should the Goldwater Institute stick to its guns and keep up their opposition to the bond issue, the Coyotes troubles could very well continue to pile up. Additionally, as the league has assumed ownership of the team, they are the ones hemorrhaging money. The other 29 team owners are none-too-pleased at their continued flushing of money down the toilet in funding an unwanted team (especially an unwanted team that appears likely to reach the playoffs again), and their patience with the NHL’s actions have to be running thin at this point. Canadian sports fans are undoubtedly giddy at the whole prospect of the Coyotes potentially moving out of Arizona, as several major Canadian offers have been publicly put forward to try to land an NHL team in Winnipeg, Hamilton, Quebec City, and even a second team in Toronto. Despite the fact that the Maple Leafs would very likely block any attempt to add as second Toronto-based team, and the Leafs and the Sabres would unite to block a Hamilton-based team, the offers from Winnipeg and Quebec City would have to be viewed as extremely attractive alternatives to the NHL, especially by owners seeking to rid themselves of their shared burden in the desert. Other American cities have likewise been lobbying for new teams, most notably Kansas City, meaning that there is plenty of interest in moving the Coyotes elsewhere from from even within the United States.
More on this undoubtedly at a later date.