Monday, 7 May 2012

Coyotes to remain in Phoenix for good? Or is Seattle or Vegas or Québec on the horizon?

So another group has now been found to be the patsies, er, owners who take over the Phoenix Coyotes from the NHL.  I guess they have not had an opportunity to talk to Jerry Moyes about his experience running a hockey team in Glendale and of being in a partnership with Gary Bettman's syndicate.

It'll be interesting to see how much freedom the new group would have to relocate to a different market, in terms of the lease at their arena, and any constraints put on them by the NHL.  Gary Bettman has been frantically trying to keep this franchise in Phoenix, both for the economic footprint of the league, and possibly for the validation of his Sunbelt Strategy.  We can imagine that he's not going to let them buy the team and pull a Michael Heisley, using the Glendale arena as a placeholder while they look for more lucrative climes.

Mr. Bettman was at his whiny sanctimonious self while being interviewed by James Duthie on TSN.  He explained that the prior deal struck with the Hulsizer group and which had been underpinned by taxpayer dollars had been torpedoed by the threat of a suit from the watchdog Goldwater Institute, a suit without merit in his opinion.  It was only the chilling effect of the threat that killed the bond issue that scuttled the deal though, not the fact that this group wasn't willing to pony up any of its own dough.

We'll believe in this deal when we see it.  We don't believe the math.  Prospective buyers have been kicking the tires on this franchise for years, and only show interest if it's to pick up and move to a better locale, or if they're not spending their own money.  They either want to pay a very low price to stay in place, or have the 'flexibility' to move if they have to meet the Bettman-inflated, other-franchise-value-protecting full sticker price.

Everyone knows about the empty seats, and the low revenue brought in by those tickets that are actually sold, at a huge discount, with deals on hotdogs and beer as sweeteners.  We know that the team suffered $25 million losses the last couple years.

We know about the unfortunate location in Glendale, instead of downtown Phoenix or anywhere near a vibrant neighbourhood which would encourage a festival atmosphere.  Going to a Canucks or Canadiens game is preceded by a cool walk in surrounded by other fans in team jerseys.  I had the good fortune to attend a Chargers game in Seattle, and the walk to the Seahawks' stadium was a great prelude to an afternoon of watching football, with various catcalls and good-natured jibes at my Chargers jersey.  The Chargers fans found each other in the mass migration to the field, and banded together for electric blue moral support in an ocean of Seahawk green.  All the pubs had sidewalk tables set up, the pregame shows and early games were blaring from patio speakers, and the whole downtown was alive and vibrant on a Sunday morning.  No such magic occurs for a Coyotes game.  You drive in, park and walk in to find your seat.  That sterility may be sustainable in hockey-mad Ottawa, but the experience doesn't cut it in fickle Arizona.

Personally, we'd much prefer if the Coyotes were allowed to move and fill a need in a relevant market like Québec.  We've all seen the success the Jets had this season, that is all the confirmation we need that the NHL needs to be in northern markets.  We'd even relish the prospect of a move to Seattle, as that would provide more hockey options for Vancouver and Whistler fans.  Seattle could count on sellouts whenever the Canadiens or Leafs played.  The putative owner of the new arena, which would be built mainly to house the return of the Sonics, has a chance to build an arena in a downtown location that is surrounded with shops and pubs and would provide a good atmosphere for game day, contrasted to the current Glendale white elephant.

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