Arizona officials, columnists on Coyotes move threat: Talk to us when your team doesn’t suck

So how’s that whole threaten that the Arizona Coyotes will move (somewhere) if they don’t get a new arena to replace their new arena in Glendale that replaced their new arena in Phoenix thing going over with Arizona elected officials and the media? Not well at all:

[Glendale city manager Kevin Phelps and former mayor Elaine Scruggs] said lawmakers should kill an arena funding bill…

They added that the NHL and team are trying to pull a fast one on taxpayers and, by putting a losing team on the ice, the Coyotes have no one but themselves to blame for their financial problems.

“We have continually invested heavily to keep NHL in the state of Arizona. We have held up our end of the bargain. They have not held up their end of the bargain. They cannot put a product on the ice for a community that has a lot of options,” Phelps said. “They don’t believe there is any correlation to the fact that they have not put a team that has been competitive for many, many years.”…

“And we are paying $13 million in arena debt payments, plus annual capital maintenance where we can spend $1 to $2 million a year,” Phelps said. “Our frustration is starting to build a little bit.”

Okay, sure, Glendale officials are going to be steamed, given that this whole thing started when they canceled the Coyotes’ sweetheart lease and the Coyotes owners said, “If you’re not going to pay us $8 million a year to play in our taxpayer-built arena, then screw you.” What about reaction elsewhere, say from Arizona Republic sports columnist Dan Bickley?

Bettman’s three-page letter to the Arizona legislature is backfiring badly on the NHL’s snappish commissioner. His bold-faced remarks that the Coyotes “cannot and will not remain in Glendale” come off as heavy-handed threats that absolve a hockey team from its non-competitive past while chiding a local government for withdrawing hefty subsidies it can no longer afford…

The Coyotes have failed on their end of the bargain, running their franchise on the cheap while depending on handouts to survive. If this team had consistently exposed Arizonans to the majesty of playoff hockey over the past decade, this conversation would sound much different.

And how about Republic non-sports columnist Laurie Roberts?

Glendale taxpayers still owe $145 million on the 13-year-old hockey arena. Glendale taxpayers, once they’ve paid off their debt, will have invested nearly a half a billion dollars in trying to keep the NHL in the state, according to city officials.

And this is the thanks they get, Mr. Bettman?

The Coyotes want $225 million in public money to help pay for a new arena complex either in downtown Phoenix or the East Valley. They also want control of a planned adjacent hotel and surrounding real estate development. Team owners moan that they just haven’t been able to turn a profit on the west side.

I wonder … Is the team’s inability to turn a profit because this Valley won’t support hockey? Or is it because this Valley won’t support bad hockey?

Sense a theme here? If there’s one lesson that we’ve learned over and over in stadium and arena battles, it’s that as much as there is public distaste for giving tax money to rich sports team owners, what people really hate is giving tax money to rich owners of sports teams that suck. (This undoubtedly plays into the dismal poll numbers for the Coyotes owners’ demands, too.) Dropping vague threats to move your team because you’re unhappy with your lease and claim you can’t make money is one thing; doing so when you’ve won all of two playoff series in your 21-year history is the kind of chutzpah that isn’t likely to win you many friends, or even many enemies who’ll give you money just out of fear that the team will leave.

The irony, of course, is that having Arizona taxpayers pay for a new arena to let the Coyotes move from one part of the state to another would still be a terrible idea even if the team were winning Stanley Cups. Maybe Andrew Barroway and Anthony LeBlanc should try putting together a winning team before trying their move-threat gambit, so it’ll go over better — though if they were to do that, they might risk people actually showing up to games in Glendale, which would make it tougher to argue that they need a new arena. This whole extortion thing is more difficult than it looks.

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31 comments on “Arizona officials, columnists on Coyotes move threat: Talk to us when your team doesn’t suck

  1. To be fair, the original “new arena” in Phoenix (what was then America West Arena) was new, but wasn’t really “their new arena.” It was not built with hockey in mind at all, giving sightlines and a configuration more like Barclay’s Center.

    Had there been an actual multipurpose arena downtown that was fit for hockey, maybe they could have stayed there. (I don’t know if they were tenants of the Suns or what the deal was, to be honest.)

    But, yeah, besides the obvious “team being non-competitive most of the time” thing, the reality is that they have not proven they can resonate with hockey fans, most of whom are from somewhere else and only turn up when the Red Wings or Blackhawks are in town.

  2. Oh no! If the hockey team formerly known as the Winnipeg Jets leaves Arizona, we have nothing left but the Arizona Wildcats, ASU Sun Devils, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Suns, Mercury, Rattlers, Cactus League Spring Training, NASCAR, Waste Management Phoenix Open, Fiesta Bowl, Arizona Ironman, Rock & Roll Marathon, Tour de Tucson, College Football Playoffs, Super Bowls, and this year’s Final Four!

    See ya, Carpetbaggers. Good luck in Canada!

  3. Nashville Predators have been able to fool most people that hockey works in that city by winning once in awhile. They got a free arena and operating subsidies of 8 million a year and instead of wining they decided to win instead.

    1. Ditto Columbus, who are now being paid to play in the arena built by taxpayers for them. Florida is not that far off being in the same boat with the Panthers.

      1. Speaks volumes that a major sports league has a number of teams receiving millions in taxpayer subsidies per year to simply exist. What a business model. Bernie Madoff missed his calling…he should’ve owned an sports franchise. Instead of being in the slammer, he’d be on his league’s Board of Directors.

  4. Bettman needs Phoenix because the NHL just scammed Vegas for $500 million in expansion fees. So if the Phoenix franchise is now worthless, how is the NHL going to get another city, say Seattle, Quebec, or Hartford to cough up the expansion dollars?

  5. Fans would rather support a successful team, sure. However, we cannot say that fans will not support long term losers – they do it all the time.

    The Maple Leafs (a decade+ out of the playoffs, a quarter century since their last semi finals appearance, and an even half century since their last championship), Cubs (You know the story), Red Wings (30 years in their own desert prior to the mid 90’s cup runs), Packers (like the Wings, no success at all from the 1970s through mid 1990s) and many other franchises have fan support despite very lengthy periods of failure.

    Some franchises have never managed to win a championship, yet remain popular. Others, like the Braves, were very successful for long periods yet generally couldn’t even sell out playoff games.

    The city is wrong to blame this on bad teams. Even when the team was a playoff club it could not convert that into strong ticket sales. The fact is that people just aren’t interested in hockey at NHL prices in Arizona.

    As for those who say that “fans here will only support a winner”, frankly, you don’t understand what “Fan” actually means. If you support a club, you are with them win or lose. You also understand basic math, which means that your team will not beat all 29 others every year, nor even reach the semifinals every year. There will be good times and bad times.

    1. You can’t compare Toronto, which has had their team for 100 years, and Arizona, who has had their team for 20 and has no hockey culture like canada.

      1. There has been hockey in Phoenix since the 1960s.

        And if the primary argument made is that people won’t support the team because it is a loser, you certainly can compare markets with differing histories.

        This is the main issue: People like to say the Coyotes have failed for all kinds of reasons and that you “can’t compare” their market with any other.

        In fact, we can. The basic problem they have is that very few fans support them, and most of those are not willing to pay anything like the NHL average price to do so.

  6. Sure the Coyotes can move to Las Vegas. Las Vegas can easily support two NHL teams and an NFL team because it and the state of Nevada do not support educating their citizens.

  7. About 10 years ago, when I was working in a furniture wholesaler in Phoenix, a Coyotes rep showed up at our office hawking ticket packages. The prices were absurd–a package of 5 games, for example, at $5 per game, including some perks like food, programs, souvenirs, etc. No one showed the slightest interest. I felt rather sorry for the guy, so eager and fresh-faced, with so many other factories, offices, and warehouses in our area to cover. And so little interest in the Coyotes or hockey in general.
    I suppose that the Coyotes are like a lot of western and southern NHL franchises–if they win, they fill their arenas and generate some buzz, but if they don’t, it’s tough to even give tickets away.

  8. Certainly a winning team would help to sell more tickets, but that would probably not make the Coyotes profitable. In truth, I don’t think they want a new arena as much as they really, really want the subsidies that (they hope) will come with a new arena. If they can get a big enough subsidy, they’ll stay in Glendale; if not, they’ll chase it elsewhere. All the previous attempts to find new ownership for the Coyotes hinged on extracting a massive, ongoing subsidy for the team. The subsidy was explicit for a couple of years, then buried in the “management fee” arrangement. Glendale’s citizens and leaders wised up and realized that the transfer of money from taxpayers to the team would never stop – so they cut it off, and the result has been predictable. It’s been interesting to watch the reaction of former mayor Scruggs, as she has figured out what happened to Glendale. The entire business, from beginning to end, is a perfect example of the fundamental business model of professional sports. Most of it depends on direct or indirect taxpayer subsidy, without which it can’t exist in its present form. Moving the team across town won’t change the business model.

    1. I think you hit it on the head. I believe the Sharks, who have had success and a strong fan base, don’t make money on hockey.

      They make money managing the area and controlling the revenue streams from it.

  9. Kelly McParland: Big Daddy Bettman just can’t shake his unrequited love for Arizona

  10. I think its amazing how the NHL has be able to Con cities out of billions for a sport with no local history , participation , or TV ratings. Both the EPL and Mexican football league both have higher ratings. Hell even MLS is closing in on them. If Bettman fails in Phoenix the NHL might never again be able to expand again. Charlotte or even Vegas would be next.

  11. Morgan: Coyotes need the right location to succeed — it’s not Glendale

  12. Coyote ownership and Gary Bettman claim that all of their fans live in the East Valley and not the West Valley. But they offer no evidence. Why would there be any more hockey fans in the east side of Phoenix than the west side? Is the east side closer to Canada? The truth is there are few, if any, hockey fans anywhere in Arizona. Hockey in the desert was a failed experiment by Bettman; one that has already cost Arizona taxpayers half a billion dollars. There are far too many other things to do in Arizona than to watch a bunch of 19 year old kids from Canada and Europe play ice-hockey. There is no market in Arizona for hockey, and the same will happen in Vegas. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out town Bettman.

  13. Does the Arizona Republic not have editors? It boggles the mind that a newspaper could publish a column in which “bald-faced” is mistakenly presented as “bold-faced”. Any editor should have caught that.

  14. NHL threatens AZ legislator. Was anyone scared?

  15. I actually laughed out loud with the “cultural touchstone” comment.

    It’s time to move on

  16. 1. The Sharks make money. (Though they didn’t for years.)

    2. NHL TV ratings absolutely crush soccer ratings of all types (I’m talking double and triple as high), aside from US National teams & major international events (World Cup & Euro) in apples-to-apples comparisons.

    3. There are mountains of data showing that teams in daily/semi-daily major sports (read: not minor sports like soccer, lacrosse, roller derby, beach volleyball, etc) are more likely to encounter economic struggles during performance down cycles if their arenas are located away from the major economic center(s) of a metro area.

    The valley has better demographics for hockey than it has for the NBA or MLB (and it pains me to say that because I love both sports). The Coyotes can be a cultural touchstone for the area, while adding a modest economic contribution. This isn’t a perfect deal for the state, but it’s a good one.

    1. @Ben

      Can you provide evidence that they are making money on hockey and not other revenues–such as those that come from their control of the arena?

      I realize my sources are 4 years old, but I can’t see what they are doing differently to make more money or cut costs. Possibly TV revenue is up or revenue sharing. Whatever the reason, it would be good to know.

  17. As a general rule, threats by sports teams to leave a city don’t work when said sports team sucks.
    The Mavericks threatened to leave this area in 1995 when they demanded a new arena from the city of Dallas, Dallas wouldn’t pony up enough ca$h, and the city of Lewisville voted down a sales tax increase to help pay for an arena there. At the time the Mavs were a running joke in terms of performance, they didn’t so much suck as blow goats. Despite hints of “other cities” being interested (Birmingham AL kept being mentioned), local sentiment to the threats was mostly “OK, don’t let the door hit you on the way out”.
    The Mavericks stayed.

  18. Why are NHL tickets expensive in Toronto? Because they’re cheap in Phoenix

    1. That’s a little overstated — there’s no reason to assume that Ontario would have another team if Phoenix didn’t have one — but I get his point.

  19. Bettman says he remains bullish on Phoenix as a strong hockey market. Believes they will indeed get new arena.

    – John Shannon, via Twitter, 1:49 PM – 14 Mar 2017

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