Glendale’s series of lease deals to lure and keep the Arizona Coyotes in town have always been among the worst in sports history: The city built a new arena at its own expense and charged the Coyotes only $1 minimal rent [EDIT: see comments for more on the Coyotes’ past and present rent situation], gave the team $50 million in operating subsidies to keep its owners from leaving town after it filed for bankruptcy, then agreed to pay another $15 million a year for the next 15 years to ensure that the team stays put, leaving the city with a budget drowning in red ink even after laying off a quarter of municipal workers. That was all bad enough, but what may kick this over the top to Worst Sports Venue Deal Ever: Glendale gave the Coyotes owners an out clause that will let the team move even if it’s not losing money.
The short version, condensed from David Shoalts’ excellent investigation in Friday’s Globe and Mail: Under the escape clause, the Coyotes’ owners can break their lease and move the team if they’ve lost at least $50 million over the first five years of the deal, running through 2018. That would seem to be hard to do when you’re getting $15 million a year in subsidies from your landlords and paying very little rent, but the Coyotes figured a way around that:
The $15-million from Glendale is recorded as revenue on the books of the company [George] Gosbee and [Anthony] LeBlanc formed to manage the arena, not on the books of IceArizona, the company that owns the Coyotes. While that money eventually flows to IceArizona because it owns the arena manager, for perfectly legal accounting purposes the parent company can claim a larger loss on its hockey operations, which ratchets up the number for the escape clause. Just as important, it also means the $15-million is not recorded as hockey-related revenue, which has to be shared 50-50 with the players under the collective agreement.
So not only is Glendale paying the Coyotes to play in its arena, it’s agreeing to let the team owners claim unmanageable losses by not counting those payments on their books. That is some kind of crazy.
Now, it’s always possible that Gosbee and LeBlanc (and possible new majority investor Andrew Barroway) won’t exercise the escape clause, because where else are they going to find a city that’s willing to give them a free arena plus $15 million a year in cash while doing so in such a way that they’re still eligible for NHL revenue-sharing payments. But then, they don’t have to actually exercise the escape clause to make use of it — they can use the mere threat of it to try to extract even more concessions from Glendale in a revised lease. You may think Glendale is tapped out by now, but when you’re this far down the road in a long con, there’s nothing left to do but see how far you can push your mark.