Coyotes stay put in Glendale another season, five years after insisting they were gone

Hey, it’s been a while since we checked in with the Arizona Coyotes, whose then-owner Anthony LeBlanc in 2015 objected to not getting paid by the city to operate their own arena by saying he was talking to lots of other cities, then signed another lease extension in 2017, then signed another one this January. What’s the latest?

Arizona Coyotes officials have confirmed the team will stay in Glendale for another season as the team draws larger crowds to Gila River Arena than it has in years.

“We will absolutely play the 2020-2021 NHL season in Gila River Arena,” Coyotes CEO Ahron Cohen said in a statement on Friday.

Coyotes attendance was indeed up ever so slightly last year, and they’re currently only fourth-worst in the NHL, ahead of the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, and Ottawa Senators. The team’s new owner has said that staying n Glendale without a new arena would be “difficult,” and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said last summer that the current situation is “not viable long-term,” but at a certain point actions speak louder than words, and the fact of the matter is that we’re now going on five years since LeBlanc threatened to leave town if he didn’t get to keep his sweetheart arena lease, and the team is still there, with no serious relocation talks underway that anyone has publicly reported on.

I never want to suggest that pro sports teams’ move threats are entirely a bluff: They do move on occasion, though it’s way more common in the NFL where local cable market size isn’t an issue and there are a lot fewer tickets needing to be sold; and Phoenix has never really been a hockey hotbed, so there are arguably other markets the Coyotes could viably leave for. Still, it’s a good reminder that the number of teams that move is a tiny, tiny fraction of the number whose owners threaten to move, and in almost every case there’s a long, drawn-out negotiating process before the moving trucks are actually packed up. So as memorable an image as the Baltimore Colts packing up their Mayflower vans may be, usually playing hardball over a lease doesn’t result in losing a team “overnight,” so maybe we can all stop using that word?


17 comments on “Coyotes stay put in Glendale another season, five years after insisting they were gone

  1. Anthony LeBlanc seems to have plenty of cities (six?) to choose from for his CFL stadium, too. JK

    https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/featured/what-would-you-build-if-halifax-council-gave-you-20-million/#News

    But, Alex Meruelo does not appear to have even one arena location lined up.

  2. Helps to be a top 10 metro area, have a modern arena, and already have a Battery-style dining/entertainment district built out.

    • Oh, they’re considerably better off than the Rays in terms of the ability to move if they wanted. I think their issue is basically that they don’t have things nearly as bad as they like to pretend, thus they haven’t moved yet. And if they really wanted to move, they sort of missed their ideal window. Two expansion teams have come in over the same span they’ve been complaining about Arizona. If they wanted to move, they had some prime opportunities they didn’t follow up on.

    • Since the Coyotes are being moved to the Central Division, when the Seattle team starts playing, it is more likely than not Alex Meruelo will say “No Más” and sell the franchise to Tilman Fertitta in Houston.

      • I will never stop being amused by the notion that pro sports team owners and league operators will make multimillion-dollar decisions based on what division a team is in.

        • I suppose back when the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets were in the Western Conference it made a difference for road tv viewers and, possibly in the case of Columbus, home attendance depending on opponents as the Eastern conference are more widely televised and publicized. But I have no idea how much $$$$
          But I remember how hard it was in 1969 to persuade three NFL/NFC teams to move to the AFL/AFC. It ended up with Baltimore winning the Super Bowl its first year, Pittsburgh winning four in the decade and Cleveland having some decent years.

          • Oh, don’t get me wrong, team owners will fight tooth and nail to be in the division they want. But nobody would be crazy enough to move a franchise or make an expansion decision just based on which geographic divisions needed teams. You pick your cities, then you figure out where to place them.

      • This is another example of market size trumping all. It certainly is relevant in a sport that uses regional sports networks, but I still (intuitively) think a sport like hockey is better off putting teams in markets where there is actually evidence that they like hockey. Warm weather (or non-traditional hockey) market team success is the exception, not the rule.

  3. At some point (when the viable big dollar expansion sites are used up and no-one can see any new money on the near horizon) I suspect the Glendoggle Coyotes will be moved and possibly sold.

    But if there’s one thing modern sports cartels are clear on, it’s that they won’t be letting any any of their existing carpetbagger owners move to potential expansion locations without filling their fellow owners pockets with what amounts to expansion fees (see Spanos, D).

    So if Houston or Portland or Quebec City (or Hamilton, gee, isn’t it not at all surprising how quickly the alleged top 5 market for hockey disappeared from discussion once the NHL had control of the Coyotes again?) are in an existing owner’s sites, they’ll have to pony up. Since almost any existing owner is better off in their present location than they would be in a new one but down several hundred million… it’s unlikely we’ll see that happen.

    FWIW, I think Houston could be a viable NHL market. But if you owned the Coyotes and had to pay $250-300m to move your team from Glendale to Houston, would you do it? The Jets market differential payment was much lower than this, but then, they were moving to a market absolutely no-one saw as valuable and opening up Atlanta for a third good old college try in a future round of expansion.

    I’d like to expand on this… but I am too busy ogling my new fridge magnets and don’t have the time… thank you Neil…

  4. The Coyotes may be pushing the delusion that fans will be knocking down the doors to get tickets if they could just get another new arena, this time a bit closer to their mythical “fan base.” But you can be certain they aren’t going to put up their own money to find out if that’s true.

    • The Coyotes have been claiming there are millions of die-hard hockey fans in the east valley of Phoenix. They are such die-hard fans, yet unwilling to drive 45 minutes to the west valley to see a game?

  5. There are some really bad markets for the NHL right now, almost all of them as exclusive tenants in arenas built for them where it’ll be hard to just walk away. Even if the Coyotes really wanted to leave, there’ll be competition from other clubs heading for the exits.

    • In fairness to the fans, it can be a lot longer than a 45 minute drive depending on the day/time of puck drop from Scottsdale/Mesa to Westgate/arena.

      That said, I agree with you. This has always been their claim (presumably, they were looking at the wealthier residents of those communities as well as the vacationing Canadians who tend to head there to golf or watch spring training games), even when they were still at America West.

      So why did they build in Glendale? Well, the owner at the time (Ellman) wanted a free arena. Scottsdale/Mesa wouldn’t bite (saving cash for the $100m spring training complexes, no doubt… or maybe “Eastworld”) but Glendale bit hard hard hard. Hence the new arena/football stadium at Westgate (and the suburban city’s sports related horrific debt problems).

      I agree that the location is an obstacle… but the Coyotes should not be trying to make that anyone else’s problem. It is their alone.

      • The Coyotes aren’t even the only ones. The Panthers play in friggin Sunrise, way up in Broward County and with no good access for a ton of fans in South Florida. I don’t understand the rush for getting a free arena if it’s in a terrible spot and will keep fans from seeing you, especially if you’re a Sun Belt team that needs all the fans you can get.

  6. Bettman suck the canadians fans whose paying outrageous price for ticket and by then subsidising hockey team on south which charge ridiculous price for their own tickets. These teams are not viable and after more than 20 years Bettman continue in the same way. Shame on you NHL