Coyotes owner says he has many bigly arena offers, they’re just huge, really

Banking and media and food and casino billionaire Alex Meruelo bought a majority stake in the Arizona Coyotes almost exactly one year ago, which meant he inherited the franchise ownership’s mission of finding a Phoenix-area government to shake down for money for a new arena. And, guys, that’s no easy feat in the middle of a pandemic, but poor Alex is giving it his best shot:

If it wasn’t for what happened with COVID, we’d be so much further ahead.” Meruelo said. “It’s really set us back at least six to nine months. I still hope and I plan, with [new team CEO] Xavier [Gutierrez]’s help — Xavier is very good at this — we’d like to get something announced by the end of the year.

“We’re working very hard. What I can tell you is this: Xavier has moved down here. His whole family’s here with them. They bought a beautiful house. My son lives here. I’m not going to go anywhere and we’re committed to Arizona. It’s not that simple. And you ask, ‘Why?’ Well, we’re still right now currently playing in Glendale. You know very well we can’t leave tomorrow. It’s impossible to leave tomorrow, so I have to be there probably a couple more years. Now, Glendale has expressed a tremendous amount of interest in us staying there. So I will listen to what they have to say. But we’ve also gotten a couple offers from the East Valley, which are extremely attractive.”

As Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic points out, that last bit is especially dubious, since if he’s gotten “extremely attractive” offers from the East Valley, he could have taken them long before the Covid epidemic hit. Far more likely is that Meruelo is just trying to keep the arena fires lit while the current crisis passes — he even hedged on a timeline for an announcement this year (“we’d like to”), which is great for getting headlines about how a new Coyotes arena is in the works while also retaining plausible deniability if December rolls around and he still has nothing to show for it.

And it’s important to remember: What Meruelo is waiting for isn’t the money to build an arena — with a net worth of at least $2 billion and possibly a whole lot more, he has plenty of that — or even a place to build one, but rather for somebody else to offer him the money to build one. And since he’s fortunate enough to operate in a market that has multiple municipalities (plus Native American tribal entities) that he can play off against each other, his best bet for getting a bidding war going is to keep on talking about what excellent offers he’s gotten, and how [your city name here] had better step up to the table if it wants to have a shot. That’s just what savvy negotiators do.

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10 comments on “Coyotes owner says he has many bigly arena offers, they’re just huge, really

  1. I’m still somehow a dreamer in hoping that the pleas of the forgotten franchise owners may one day actually fall upon deaf ears.

    1. Kansas City is run by AEG, which has made it very clear it has no interest in offering sweetheart deals to sports teams when can fill the calendar with concerts instead. (As soon as there are concerts again, anyway, which will likely be around when there’s hockey again.)

      Houston would probably require Meruelo to sell the Coyotes to Tilman Fertitta, which while it might make sense on a market-size level, isn’t too likely when dude just bought the team last year.

      1. It might be academic in this case anyway because Fertitta’s primary business, a restaurant chain, is in trouble thanks to COVID.

  2. I would suggest that the only good news here is that Meruelo is talking to the media and not directly with governments. This probably means that those in control of tax dollars are not interested in talking with him much, if at all. Hence the unsolicited media assault (think Paul Newman in Slap Shot).

    Practically everyone who looks at the Coyotes finances (the real documents, when they have been made available) knows that this franchise cannot and will not generate enough revenue to reach break even in their current market. Even with guaranteed full shares of the league’s revenue sharing pie (something no other franchise gets – they have to meet targets the Coyotes do not) the club loses tens of millions annually (Burke & Ellman, Moyes claimed to be losing nearly $50m annually… the NHL rubbished that notion and then proceeded to lose $38m and $36m for the two seasons they owned the club. The next owners received $15m as a management fee, $18m in revenue sharing from the league and STILL lost millions).

    There is an appetite for hockey in Phoenix 25 years after the club moved there… just not in NHL numbers and at NHL prices. It’s not like this market is a work in progress (as Tampa once was)… you have a quarter century of failure on record.

    At some point (despite Bettman’s commitment to continued failure in the nation’s 11th largest media market – using Neilsen rankings; 5th by population; 13th by CMA) they will have no choice other than to move. Perhaps when Bettman retires, perhaps before.

    Expansion back to Atlanta seems unlikely (although, hey, third time a charm…), which leaves only Houston in the CMA top 10 as an open market. You wonder about the possibility of second teams in either Chicago or Toronto (both unlikely given the incumbent’s intransigence and revenue potential… but which could certainly grow to be viable franchises), or additional expansion in northern Florida (Orlando being a case in point – roughly 1m larger than Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater). They have the population. Do they have the interest?

    Apart from those locations the only legitimate options would be Portland or San Diego… neither of which is particularly appealing to ownership. Cleveland could be on the list, but they already have teams in 3 of the 4 major leagues and are unlikely to be able to support a 4th. Also, the Blue Jackets exist, which would hurt the viability of either a renewed Crusaders or Stingers franchise).

    Beyond that we are down into metro areas of 2.5m or less… which can work in a hockey crazed market, but cannot reasonably be considered viable candidates otherwise.

    Whether through expansion or relocation, it is very hard to see Houston not being the next NHL franchise (assuming somebody wants one there). It is really the only viable option at present.

    1. There is also Quebec, which is small but has actual hockey fans. And a wannabe owner, though again, Meruelo would have to be willing to sell. I guess either there or in Houston, he could go back to being minority owner, since he’s done it before.

      Either way, I don’t see a move happening anytime real soon, both for Meruelo reasons and Bettman reasons.

      1. Probably true. I was pleased to see Winnipeg back in the league and would be pleased to see QC back in as well… (both actual hockey markets, though considerably smaller than would be ideal). I fear neither will be viable NHL markets in the long term, though.

        I guess it depends on what the NHL landscape will look like 10 or 15 years out. Will professional sports keep growing at the insane rate they have been over the past 30 years? Or will there be a rationalization of what consumers will and won’t pay for?

    1. I’ve been pushing for Portland for the longest.

      NHL ready arena already in place, very good support for the minor league team that plays next door, somewhat near Canada and is the 2nd largest market in the US with only 1 sports team.

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