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The Inevitable Relocation Of The Phoenix Coyotes

Ann Frazier |
February 20, 2013 | 9:29 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

Keith Yandle and company may need to pack their bags very soon. (Michael Wifall/Wikimedia Commons)
Keith Yandle and company may need to pack their bags very soon. (Michael Wifall/Wikimedia Commons)
The silence has been deafening.

Jan. 31 was the deadline the city of Glendale had given Greg Jamison’s group to raise funds to buy the Phoenix Coyotes. That date came and went with no indication that Jamison was even close. Since that date, there has been little news out of Phoenix about any other potential buyer.

The writing, therefore, is on the wall: the Phoenix Coyotes will not be in Phoenix in the 2013-14 season.

How did a team in such a large market fail so publicly and spectacularly? It all goes back to performance both on and off the ice; the Phoenix Coyotes have not been a successful team. This is due to a myriad of factors, including but not limited to hiring Wayne Gretzky as head coach (Gretzky was as bad at coaching as he was good at playing) and ill-advised arena placement. The Coyotes have been losing money hand over fist, needing emergency influxes of money from the NHL in order to keep running.

The Coyotes’ situation, though concerning, did not present itself as the huge problem that it is today until Cinco de Mayo 2009.

On May 5, 2009, then-owner Jerry Moyes declared Chapter 10 bankruptcy, intending to immediately sell the team. Moyes was never very interested in owning a hockey team, often trying to unload the team although never finding any takers. But in 2009, he finally found someone. The buyer? Jim Balsillie, at the time the co-CEO of Research in Motion.

Balsillie had been a potential NHL team buyer before. He first targeted the Pittsburgh Penguins and then the Nashville Predators, two teams that were in similar situations of ownership crisis. In each attempt, Balsillie made no attempt to hide his desire to immediately move teams to his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario; he even sold season tickets for the Hamilton Predators before the NHL ultimately nixed the deal due to his underhanded practices.

Like with the Penguins and Predators, the NHL did not allow Balsillie to purchase the Coyotes. In an effort to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix (a large, mostly untapped market that, if successful, could bring a lot more revenue into the NHL), it purchased the team and set out to find an owner who would be dedicated to the Phoenix Coyotes.

The NHL bought the Coyotes on Nov. 2, 2009. Over three years after that purchase - and nearing four years for the overall ownership saga - the NHL still owns the team.

There have been a handful of serious buyers over the years: Ice Edge Holdings, Jerry Reinsdorf and Matthew Hulsizer were all trumpeted by the NHL as the future owners of the Phoenix Coyotes, only to bow out due to lack of funds. And then former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison arrived on the scene, heralded by the NHL the most of all, seen as the last great hope for hockey in Phoenix.

But when the NHL emerged from the four-month lockout with no news on the Jamison bid, there was writing on the wall. It was no secret that Gary Bettman would have loved to emerge from the owner-caused labor stoppage with some positive news about ownership to announce. Instead, there were only bland statements about how Jamison was continuing his attempts to raise the funds.

That all came to a halt when Jan. 31 came, and Jamison announced he could not purchase the Coyotes. It is over. It has been four years, and the only buyers who have enough capital are the ones who want to move the Coyotes out of Glendale. Other teams in the NHL with much higher price tags have been bought and sold during the Coyotes saga, meaning that the desire to own an NHL team exists, but the desire to own an NHL team in Phoenix does not.

But where will they go? As of right now, there are two candidates who have expressed an interest in attracting a struggling NHL team.

Even since the Quebec Nordiques left in the mid-90s due to a similarly fraught ownership situation, Quebec City has expressed an interest in getting an NHL team back. The hockey-mad city even has a political party dedicated to bringing an NHL team back to the francophone town. However, there are a few issues with their bid.

Unlike Montreal, the existing Quebec team which has a large bilingual population, Quebec City residents primarily speak French. This is an issue for the many NHLers who struggle to speak English; there will be an expectation for any non-North American player in Quebec City to essentially be trilingual.

Also, Quebec City, with a population of around 500,000, would be the second smallest city in North America with a professional sports team, trailing only Green Bay, Wis. In a league that is gate-driven, would that population be enough to sustain an NHL team for 41 home games per season?

But the most important hurdle is the lack of an NHL-ready arena in which to play. While the city is building the Quebecor Arena, it is not slated to be open until 2015. Until then, the Colisee Pepsi - built in 1949 - remains the only arena in the area, an arena that has a hockey capacity of 15,176.

The second option stands as the only American option, a city that was technically the first American city to win the Stanley Cup: Seattle. Seattle, with its sports-mad population and proximity to Canada, seems like an obvious choice if an American city were to get an NHL team. But why hasn’t Seattle been at the forefront of the relocation talks until now? Simple: the Sacramento Kings.

With the Maloofs’ pending sale of the Sacramento Kings to a Seattle-based group that will see the Kings relocate to Seattle, construction on a new arena will go forward to host the NBA team. Key Arena’s ability to host hockey games (or lack thereof) was one of the key reasons why Seattle had not been in relocation discussions; with a guaranteed new arena, Seattle jumps to the vanguard of relocation destinations.

And, in my opinion, the Coyotes are going to Seattle. An untapped, American market that not only is known for being passionate about sports but can also be propped up by rabid Canucks fans in lean times is the best case scenario for the NHL in this relocation saga. The only delay is waiting for the approval of the sale of the Sacramento Kings; the arena deal hinges on an NBA team, not an NHL one. It would not be surprising to hear the Coyotes are moving to Seattle only days after the Kings deal is approved.

Phoenix, as much as Gary Bettman would hate to admit it, is essentially done as an NHL city. It was due to prolonged mismanagement that was only exacerbated by the three-year bankruptcy saga, and it likely could have been avoided. But barring any last-minute white knights, expect to see the Coyotes in Seattle - or Quebec City - this time next year.

Reach Staff Writer Ann Frazier via email or follow her on Twitter.


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Pierre (not verified) on March 30, 2013 10:59 AM

I was devastated then the Nordiques moved from Québec to Denver in 1995. Now my hometown is ready for the return of the NHL, whether it's from a relocation, or an expansion. I don't wish on any fans to lose their team because I know how much it hurts. I feel for the Coyotes fans who are uncertain about the future of hockey in Phoenix.
I can tell you that the passion for hockey is very much alive in Québec City. The fan base, the ownership, and our willingness to support the team pretty much guarantees our success. We were thrilled to see our friends in Winnipeg get the Jets back. I think that hockey can be successful is Seattle as well, but now is the time for Quebec City to get a shot at bringing back the Stanley Cup it first won in 1912 and 1913. Go Nordiques!

reverse phone (not verified) on August 23, 2013 6:32 AM

i want to have some diamond necklace conversely they have been quite expensive’

Anonymous (not verified) on March 21, 2013 9:57 PM

The Coyotes lost most fans when they decided to move to Glendale, plane and simple. The hockey fans live in the East Valley, everyone knows that. Coyotes never have had a super star. Get a Crosby and you'll get attendance. It'd also help if there was an owner AND stop trying to sell a mediocre team as a star team. We're not a great team this year, plain and simple. But look at the roster, it's expected.

Anonymous (not verified) on March 18, 2013 12:06 PM

AZ sucks!!!! That is why I moved to CO 14 years ago (But still root for my "home" teams). AZ is fair weather...if they only promoted their teams as much as their crap ass Tea Party, and Sheriff Blow, you might actually have a culture there. But AZ cares nore about crooked business than a great populous. Move the team to Seattle with The Kings if that's how it's gonna go down. Winnepeg got ATL, Seatlle gets PHX. Give it up Quebec City and Hamilton...there is not enough $$$ in the New World Order for your middle class to support.

Anonymous (not verified) on March 5, 2013 5:34 PM

It's amazing the spin that the Canadian media puts on the whole Coyotes situation because they want another team so bad. I agree that on paper, Phoenix shouldn't have a team. I am a huge Coyotes fan and season ticket holder. I am appalled most nights when there are empty seats. We have a gorgeous arena and a pretty good team too. However, there are several things that aren't considered here. Without trying to sound like a fan desparately clinging to the hope that someone will come out of the wood work and buy our team, I'd like to offer a couple of different points of view.

1.) This is not such a black and white issue. It shouldn't be that just because a team is struggling they should be moved. If that is the case, almost every franchise would have been moved by now. Pheonix is a fair weather fan market. If you are a winning team, you will get fans. There were times when the Arizona Cardinals couldn't sell out. The Arizona Diamondbacks were the hottest ticket in town when they won the world series, and now the stadium is mostly empty on most days. The Phoenix Suns attendance is terrible right now because they are terrible. I hate to say it, but if you win, you will get fans.

2.) The Coyotes have never had a chance to succeed because they've never had an owner that was willing to allow it to happen. Moyes didn't even want the team. We have the best coach in the league and he has done wonders with the roster he is given. Our GM has done an outstanding job finding the right players to fit into the system we play for pennies on the dollar. An owner that can open up the check book is all this franchise needs to be successful.

3.) Even though there are still weekday games that have an abismal crowd, the overall attendance is up over 3,000 fans per game from last year. I know you will say that those tickets are given away at huge discounts, but it shows that people are willing to go to the games. They also currently have the highest amount of season ticket holders in franchise history at the moment with over a 90% renewal rate. People are willing to go watch a winner.

3.) Finally, Bettman is insistant upon them staying in the desert. There has to be another reason. Have you ever stopped to think that he may be threatened by a lawsuit if they move? When Balsillie (sp?) tried to buy the team and move them, the NHL stepped in and stopped the deal because they didn't want the franchise moved. What would it look like if they turned around and relocated them? They blocked a potential deal for one reason, then turn around and do the very thing they blocked the deal for? Just saying...

Anonymous (not verified) on March 19, 2013 7:16 AM

Ah yes of course, it's all the fault of those evil Canadians. Nevermind that nobody with any actual money wants to buy the team and pay for it, or that they'll only keep it in Glendale with tens of millions a year in corporate welfare from taxpayers who are being told to make due with reduced services in everything else to pay for it.

The only people who want to buy this team can't afford it. Anybody who can isn't interested until it can be move. That doesn't tell you something? The franchise is worthless in Glendale. Not enough fans care, so it's not a good market.

Anonymous Qc (not verified) on March 17, 2013 4:31 PM

the coyotes situation in 2013 is worse than nordiques in 95 and bettman make the nordique moved because he need some team in the south(real reason). Nordiques Attendance from 1980-1995 was 14000 avg each game http://www.hockeydb.com/nhl-attendance/att_graph.php?tmi=7584 and the ticket price was higher in this time if we compare to the coyotes.... so you understand ours fustration.

The NHL and Bettman own the coyotes since Nov 2 2005, almose 5 years now and no real owner at the sight. here in Quebec we didn't have this chance.

Bettman keep the team there because it will look like he fail, Glendale paid to keep the team there not for hockey but for Westgate economical situation, without the yotes a lot of buisness will close.

the real difference btw glendale and Qc is .. in Qc the base fan there is real and stable and it all it take to make a team survive.

Sorry for my bad english, btw a lot of french people from Quebec can also speak english so that might not be a problem for the player.

Real Hockey Fan (not verified) on March 11, 2013 8:43 AM

You say that Phoenix has fair weathered fans and will show up if they are winning... They made it all the way to the conference finals last year and still had seats available on game days. You say people are willing to go watch a winner.... There you go, your statement right there proves that Phoenix does not deserve a team... A fan cheers win or lose.

Anonymous (not verified) on March 11, 2013 8:40 PM

It's not even a matter of deserve. Fair weather fans just aren't enough to support a team. What happens if the fall in to a slump again? Attendance drops below 10000?

Selanne (not verified) on March 3, 2013 10:53 AM

This team should have moved years ago. The desert has been a miserable failure for the NHL. It's time to stop the bleeding and move them to Quebec.