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.