Archive for the ‘Relocation/Expansion’ Category

Very long time, no post.

In the months since the last SportVotes post… pretty much nothing has happened in Glendale.  I mean, sure… they had a solid playoff run and there was a controversial public financing plan and a threatened public referendum and a new potential owner is trying to gather the funds to finally buy the Coyotes, but really?  It’s just been long and dragged out beyond belief.

It’s honestly more depressing than anything, really.  That being said, it is somewhat amusing to go back and read through some of my own posts that more or less prognosticated the impending doom of the Yotes, only for it to get dragged on for another year (soon to be a second year) while the almost entirely ignored Thrashers up and moved to Winnipeg.

Is this the beginning of a new start at SportVotes?  Maybe.

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For past articles on the Phoenix Coyotes, please go HERE.

First of all, it’s great to finally be back.  My computer problems are still persisting, but thankfully I now have a loaner laptop in my possession that will allow me to return to updating SportVotes.

In the two weeks since my last update on the subject, the situation in Arizona between the NHL, the Glendale City Council, and prospective Coyotes-owner Matthew Hulsizer on one side and the Goldwater Institute, a conservative taxpayers advocacy group, on the other, has continued to deteriorate.  The Glendale City Council had previously threatened to sue Goldwater and a number of other individuals should their attempts to block the sale of municipal bonds lead to the relocation of the Coyotes, but that threat has appeared to be mere posturing as weeks have since past with no actual move on this front.  Since then, the Goldwater Institute has apparently dug their heels on the matter and continued their efforts to warn potential bonds buyers about the questionable legality of the deal.

These moves have so seriously threatened the sale of the bonds, integral to allowing a new ownership group being able to buy the team and keep them in Arizona without absorbing exorbitant amounts of debt, that Glendale and Hulsizer have come hat in hand offering additional millions of dollars in guarantees for taxpayers to make the offer more appealing.  However, Goldwater is still convinced that the basic arrangement behind the proposed deal violates the state constitution, so they are not backing down.  NHL and Glendale officials have been trying their best to downplay the severity of Goldwater’s continued actions and threat to sue, but they are desperately worried.  Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the NHL, is on the verge of facing an outright owner’s revolt against him for failing to sell the Coyotes that has proved to be a massive burden on the league’s coffers, and Glendale has even gotten vocal support from powerful U.S. Senator John McCain to speak on their behalf to Goldwater.

And they have good reason to be worried.  The NHL’s and Hulsizer’s patience is limited, and at a certain point one or both will simply back out rather than continue to lose face.  Should that happen, there can be no denying that the Coyotes would be forced to relocate, likely as early as next season, a fact that has absolutely delighted Winnipeggers due to the likelihood that they are the prohibitive favorites to land the team in the event of a new ownership group buying the team and moving them elsewhere.  And, to date, there is no indication that Glendale is at all willing to drop their objections to the deal.

As per usual, more news on this as it becomes available.  And you’d better believe that it will be coming relatively soon.  The status quo cannot be sustained in the desert for long.

I’m unfortunately still without a computer, so I can’t really go into too much depth on this. However, as it involves the Sacramento Kings, I figured that I should include mention of it here.

The Maloof family, owners of the Kings, have filed for several trademarks in the event of relocation to Anaheim. As expected, if they moved to Southern California, the Kings seem intent on changing the name of the franchise so as to not run into potential difficulties with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. As per a report by ESPN, the Maloofs are looking into their pre-Kansas City past to return to their original name, the Royals.

More information on this development can be found here: http://es.pn/hhsp5q

Hopefully I’ll be able to go into a greater level of detail in the near future.

Past articles on the Phoenix Coyotes and their “Drama in the Desert” can be found HERE.

Potentially as early as tomorrow, the city of Glendale will be filing suit against the Goldwater Institute for its repeated attempts to block the sale of municipal bonds meant to finance a deal that would keep the Phoenix Coyotes in Arizona.  Claiming that losing the franchise would result in a potential net loss of a half billion dollars in future revenue sources for the city, the Glendale City Council has instructed the city attorney to file suit against Goldwater Institute.  While it should come as no surprise that Glendale would bear its teeth at the conservative watchdog after their repeated questioning over the legality of the city’s attempts to push through the controversial bond issue, what should be viewed as a shocker is the potential scope of the lawsuit.  If Goldwater continues its opposition and subsequently forces the NHL to halt efforts to keep the team in Arizona, Glendale could be seeking damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  On top of that, Glendale will not only be suing  the Goldwater Institute for damages, but also individual members of its board of directors and even the wife of the owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks due to allegations that the baseball team has been supporting Goldwater so as to remove a major sports competitor from their market.

In my personal opinion, this is an absolute, last-ditch effort by Glendale to keep the franchise.  Grumblings from the NHL have been growing ever fiercer for months over their continued financial hardship in administering the deeply unprofitable franchise, and the other teams’ owners have all-but lost patience for continuing to fund the Coyotes while attempts to keep the team in Arizona under new ownership have floundered.  Additionally, prospective buyers have already popped up in Winnipeg that are willing to buy the franchise and pay off the debt in order to move the team and bring back the Jets.  While the NHL has obviously been interested in keeping the team in the Southern United States in the hopes of gaining a major American television contract, the prospect of the situation in Glendale dragging on has inexorably been pushing the league’s higher-ups for cutting ties in the desert and recouping their losses by selling off the franchise back to its original Manitoban roots even at the risk of losing a major media market in Arizona.

As a result of this, Glendale is firing directly at the bow of not only the Goldwater Institute, but at its directors and supporters in a single, vicious stroke.  They are going to try to scare Goldwater to withdraw their threat to block the bond issue with a lawsuit of their own and hit them in the pocketbook should Glendale lose the Coyotes.  And to my nose, this reeks of a desperation bully move.  Even if it is shown that Glendale did not break state law with the proposed massive bond issue, the prospect of facing a lawsuit could very likely delay the NHL’s sale of the franchise long enough that they simply give up on attempts to keep the team in Arizona and allow prospective owners from elsewhere to buy the team with the intention of immediately relocating as quickly as possible.

It will all come down to a blinking game.  If Glendale’s threat forces Goldwater down in the near-immediate future, the NHL’s sale of the franchise to an owner committed to keeping the team in Arizona will go through.  If Goldwater doesn’t back down and either keeps up their legal threats or even outright files a lawsuit against the city, then the NHL will blink and allow the team to be purchased by outside ownership groups, effectively killing the Coyotes.  This is going to be a battle that messily intertwines the sports world, the political world, and the business world before all is said and done.

3/9 UPDATE: Rather than making a new entry, I figured that I’d just add on some news here.

As of right now, despite Glendale’s initial intention to file suit as early as Monday, the city and the NHL are mostly stuck in a staring contest with the Goldwater Institute to see which one blinks first.  Both sides are threatening legal action and Commissioner Gary Bettman of the NHL is sounding exasperated over the continued speedbumps that have been thrown up at every step of the process in his attempts to sell the Coyotes.  Canadian media is getting positively giddy at the notion that the league’s patience could be on the verge of running out and that a return to Winnipeg could be coming sooner rather than later.  As soon as new information about the continued drama in the desert becomes  available, I will report on it here.  Until then, the Arizona standoff continues.

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.

Could the Jets be coming back?

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).

Or the Nordiques?

Or how about the Scouts?

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.

For my previous entries on the Sacramento Kings, please visit HERE.

The past several days have been hectic ones for Sacramento sports fans.  News broke last week during the NBA All-Star festivities that the owners of the Kings, the Maloof family, were in close negotiations with the city of Anaheim over the potential to relocate there as early as next season.  Then, a few days ago, the Kings officially filed for an extension with the NBA to explore their options to move next season.  Under the old deadline, any NBA team that was considering relocation for next season would have to give notice of said fact by today, March 1st, in order to move ahead with any plans to move.  In response to the apparently accelerated timetable for possibly losing their team, Kings fans throughout Sacramento showed their support of their beloved franchise and their dismay over potentially losing it by posting billboards, begging that the team stay in the California state capital, and cheering their team at the top of their lungs at subsequent home games.

But it may be all for naught, as the NBA (unsurprisingly) agreed to grant the Kings an extension to the deadline, meaning that the Maloof family now has until the April 14-15 meeting of the NBA board of governors in New York City to officially file for relocation for next season.  During that time, Kings management will undoubtedly be on the phone nonstop trying to drum up support among other team owners to vote in favor of moving the team, something that the Lakers and the Clippers have already expressed their strong opposition against if they try to set up shop in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.  Depending on how this lobbying goes, there are three options for the Kings.  They can either:

  1. Gain enough support among NBA owners to allow relocation to Anaheim,
  2. Lacking support to move to the L.A. area, still gain support to relocate elsewhere, or
  3. Find little to no support for relocation, and thus stay in Sacramento for the next season.

While recent news has been surrounding the franchise’s apparent intentions to move to Anaheim, where they’d play alongside the Anaheim Ducks of the NHL, pressure from the Lakers and the Clippers might very well be strong enough to prevent a majority of the Board of Governors allowing a third team being added to the L.A. area.  Should that happen, and if the Maloofs are convinced that they cannot stay in their current home in Sacramento, they would likely face less of a fight if they instead decided to relocate to another location.  As they’ve already held conversations with San Jose, Louisville, Las Vegas, and Kansas City (which would be the ultimate irony, considering that the Kings abandoned Kansas City for Sacramento a quarter century ago), as well as several other cities that I’d consider bigger long shots than those four options, thiscould very easily be a consolation prize to the Kings ownership if they absolutely want to move by next season and don’t gain support for their apparent top choice of Anaheim.

Regardless, options 1 and 2 seem to be the most likely to occur, sad as it may be for Sacramento fans.  And, as we’ve seen from recent experience, the NBA seems to be willing to drop the hammer on traditional NBA markets with outdated arenas in favor of new locations with more modern facilities available.  The Seattle SuperSonics were stunningly relocated to Oklahoma City of all places a few short years ago as a result of team and league displeasure with the outdated KeyArena versus the modern Oklahoma City Arena.  History could very well repeat itself, this time with the Kings and the NBA abandoning Sacramento because of the outdated Power Balance Pavilion (known as the ARCO Arena prior to today) in favor of Anaheim’s Honda Center, San Jose’s HP Pavilion, Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center (the more I see it, the more I honestly hate that name…), Kansas City’s Sprint Center, or a few other possibilities.  The ultimate slap in the face would be if the Kings decided to move to Las Vegas, which doesn’t even have an NBA-caliber arena, but still remains a backup possibility given the Maloof family’s interests in the city.  The only facilities that could potentially host an NBA team would both seemingly be a step down for the Kings, as the Thomas & Mack Center is even older than their current home and the MGM Grand Garden Arena would need to be heavily retrofitted for a permanent NBA team, not to mention that neither facility has sufficient luxury boxes for a modern home.

The only thing we know now is that the deadline has been extended, and Kings fans will undoubtedly have to endure another month of nonstop “will they, won’t they” talk over their home team.

For the section covering the Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers, and San Francisco 49ers, please go HERE.
For the section covering the Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, and St. Louis Rams, please go HERE.

Six potential candidates for relocation to Los Angeles have already been discussed, but I have saved what would have to be considered the biggest surprise for last.

Vikings
Current Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota
2010 Franchise Value: $774 million (30th out of 32 teams)

The Minnesota Vikings have to be the biggest dark horse in the potential LA relocation candidates in discussion.  After all, they’re part of the historic NFC North, share iconic rivalries with the Chicago Bears and especially the Green Bay Packers, and have been playing professional football in the Twin Cities for a half century.  Despite the fact that they have never won a Super Bowl, the Vikings still remain a widely followed franchise, with their fandom covering a massive swath of the upper Midwest and Great Plains.  Vikings fans are energetic, involved, and loyal, reliably packing their home field during good times and bad.  Additionally, the team is usually well-followed on the road, with at least a decent amount of purple supporters in the stands no matter where they play.

However, in spite of all these problems, the Vikings have several major problems with their current situation, nearly all of which revolve around their home stadium, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.  Despite providing for an excellent home field advantage due to its loud stadium noise, the Metrodome is incredibly outdated by modern standards, which limits the earning potential of the team.  This is especially evident by their shockingly low franchise value.  If you asked a hundred NFL fans how the Vikings ranked against the rest of the league in regards to franchise valuation, I could just about guarantee you that none of them would’ve guessed that they’re the third lowest valued team in the NFL.  To be honest, I don’t even think that any would have even assumed that they were even in the bottom ten!  The Metrodome’s drawbacks recently came into the limelight during the 2010 season, when heavy snow in Minneapolis caused the Metrodome’s roof to puncture and collapse, videos of which spread like wildfire across the internet.

This collapse forced the Vikings to play their last two home games of the year at alternate sites, losing both and putting to rest even their most far-fetched postseason hopes.  It also signified an exclamation point to the continued negotiations that the team has had with the state of Minnesota over the potential to build a new stadium for the Vikings.  Hoping to emulate the deal the Minnesota Twins of the MLB received for the partial funding of their new Target Field, the Vikings are seeking public assistance in the construction of a new stadium.  While they have had agreements with the local government in the past, any and all public funding plans have fallen apart as the state legislature has expressed continued unwillingness to spend public funds on a new football stadium and the locals are uncertain about public support for funding yet another private sports facility.  Additionally, the team’s ownership has stumbled at times as well, no more so than in 2005 when they effectively forced nearby Anoka County to pull out of a public funding agreement when the Vikings announced that their planned stadium would be an open-air facility without any roof, significantly cutting back on the potential avenues for revenue in an attempt by the team to save money.  While the Vikings seem to have learned from this mistake, as their current plans are calling for a retractable roof facility, they appear to be no closer to gaining state funding for a new stadium than they were five years ago.

Pros: With all of this in mind, the Vikings have a compelling argument for considering a move to Los Angeles.  Despite their long-standing and historic status, they are one of the lowest valued franchises in the league.  Even with their fan support, they just can’t seem to get public funding for a new stadium that other teams have received, notably Minnesota’s own Twins, making the ownership feel an intense sense that they’re being unappreciated by state and local politicians.  Both of these issues would be solved instantaneously in Los Angeles, where the team would have a choice between two competing (and attractive) stadium options as well the whole-hearted support of state and local politicians.  Additionally, the Vikings’ lease at the Metrodome expires in 2011, meaning that there would be no possible financial ramifications of leaving the Minneapolis area if push came to shove.  All of these factors weigh heavily in favor of moving to Los Angeles.

Cons: In spite of all that however, moving such an iconic franchise out of the Midwest seems almost unthinkable, especially when their fanbase is so thoroughly energetic in their support of the team.  More likely, the Vikings will follow the example of the Colts by using a threat to move to L.A. as a bargaining chip to try to force the state legislature to finally come around and provide partial public assistance in funding a new facility.  Such a threat would almost assuredly result in a massive outcry and outpouring of demand that the team stay in the Twin Cities, which would definitely weigh heavily against the state legislature if they continued to refuse public assistance to the team’s construction plans (as well as against the Vikings moving forward with a threatened move).

So, there you have it, the seven teams that could potentially be considering a move to Los Angeles… the Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings.  These teams have been reported by various media outlets and by the people behind the competing stadium plans themselves as the most likely candidates for relocation to L.A. over the past couple years.  Obviously, not to say that another team couldn’t jump in and make a surprise move to the City of Angels, or that all of the teams listed over the course of the past couple days are truly considering such an action, but these seven have to be considered the most likely candidates.

All that being said though, is the likelihood of these teams moving all equal?  Of course not.  Some teams have smaller problems than others, and some are likely only interested in using L.A. as a threat to try to get public support for new stadium construction.  I believe that this is likely the case for the Minnesota Vikings and the San Francisco 49ers, whom I truly believe are committed to remaining in the Twin Cities and the Bay Area respectively.  If either of these two teams are the ones that make the jump, I would honestly be quite shocked.  On a similar note, I likewise believe that the Bills are committed to the Buffalo area so long as their current owner remains alive, nixing the possibility of relocation for hopefully at least a few more years for this franchise.  On top of that, due to their presence in southern Ontario, if they were truly considering a relocation, Toronto seems like it would be a more likely home for them than L.A., although certain issues might arise from the Canadian government trying to block an NFL move to protect their Canadian Football League (potentially a topic of discussion for a later blog post).

Additionally, I believe that the troubles experienced by the St. Louis Rams are temporary, even with their recent and dramatic loss in value.  They have a young stud in the guise of Sam Bradford and are on the cusp of returning back into the playoffs, which would be a strong tonic to their financial woes in bring back the big bucks.  On top of that, despite the questions I previously brought up in their new owners commitment to remain in St. Louis, his Missouri connections are very deep and I don’t think that he’d be willing to move out of the area within the first couple years of his ownership of the team, which is the time table I’m looking at (as are the backers of the competing stadium plans in L.A.).  I’d say that the Rams are more likely to move than the Vikings, 49ers, and Bills in the immediate future, but that their relocation potential is lower than the remaining three teams.

That leaves us with three teams remaining, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers.  Even with their improvements in attendance over the past season, the Jaguars have some of the most questionable finances in the league, exist in a relatively small market surrounded by more entrenched competitors, and still have reason to doubt their fan support.  The Raiders have an oddball owner, a hated and mostly incompetent team management staff that has made mistake after mistake when it comes to roster and draft decisions, play in a horrible stadium, and have a history in the L.A. area as well as a still sizable fan presence in the city.  The Chargers, despite their success on the field, play in a stadium they want to replace and believe that they aren’t supported by the fans as much as they should be.

However, even among these final three, their chances still are not equal.  I’d highlight the Chargers as being the biggest wildcard among these three teams.  I believe that they are likely more interested in staying in the San Diego area, as they are in the process of shopping around the surrounding region for a potential home and partner for a new facility.  More likely than the Jaguars and the Raiders, I think that they’d be more interested in threatening to move to get what they want in their current surroundings versus actually moving.  However, while I’d rank them as being less likely than the Jags and Raiders, I wouldn’t put them on the same level of unlikelihood as the 49ers and Vikings.  The Chargers, more so than any other team listed, probably have the most variance in their options.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they moved or if they stayed, but they are not even close to being the most or least likely candidate for relocation.  Like I already said above, they will be the wild card and will be entirely dependent on if they can get San Diego-area public financing for a new stadium.

That leaves us with the Jaguars and the Raiders, the two teams I’d identify as being the most likely candidates for moving to the City of Angels.  Both teams have serious financial problems, with the Raiders having more management and stadium issues plaguing them while the Jaguars are mostly troubled by their questionable market size.  These very real issues have weighed heavily on both franchises over the years, to the point where they have to be considering their options in L.A. and are undoubtedly being courted by the competing stadium plans.  The Raiders would seem to have a less of a league barrier to a move, as a relocation would not necessitate a divisional realignment as would likely be necessary if the Florida-based Jaguars set up shop in California.  However, I’d also rank the inherent structural problems of the Jaguars as being greater than the Raiders, effectively evening their chances.

However, just like how neither team could move and this entire conversation could be for naught, more than one team could make the jump as well.  With competing stadium plans, both development groups could very well push for a team of their own and still likely be profitable competing in a two-team Los Angeles area, much in the same way that the region already supports two baseball teams, two hockey teams, and two (perhaps three) basketball teams.  Additionally, the backers of the City of Industry bid have already expressed their intention to try to draw two NFL teams to share their facility in the same way that the Jets and the Giants share a home in New Jersey.  Despite that, I’d honestly have to say that two L.A. teams is a pie-in-the-sky dream for Los Angeles fans, especially when you remember that the last time the City of Angels had two NFL teams they both abandoned the area within a few months of each other.  More likely than not, if the NFL returns to Los Angeles in the near future it will just be one team…

… and if I were a betting man, I’d lay money on it being either the Jaguars or the Raiders.