If I can’t keep track of the various twists of the NHL’s attempts to succeed in the greater Phoenix market—and it’s kind of my job—how can I expect you to? All you need to know is that it’s been an economic disaster for the last two decades, and the future of the Arizona Coyotes remains as insecure as ever. Not that you needed to hear it from the commissioner, but here it is.
The Arizona legislature is currently hearing arguments on Senate Bill 1149, which would provide at least $225 million in public money to build a new arena for the Coyotes—though the location is still undetermined. It represents yet another desperation attempt to keep the Coyotes in Arizona, even though they can’t seem to draw fans or turn a profit no matter where they play or who owns them.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wrote a letter to the legislature to urge them to pass the bill and get the Coyotes out of the Gila River Arena in Glendale. You can read the letter in full here, but here are the pertinent bits:
“For the past 15 years, a succession of ownership groups and the league have tried everything imaginable to make the Glendale location financially sustainable. Our combined efforts have yielded the same result — a consistent economic loss.
“The simple truth? The Arizona Coyotes must have a new arena location to succeed. The Coyotes cannot and will not remain in Glendale.”
“While we cannot and will not stay in Glendale, we will continue to push our proposed public-private partnership until we wither achieve a long-term arena solution in a more economically viable location in the Valley, or we reach a point where there is simply no longer a path forward in Arizona.”
If the bill doesn’t pass...we’ll probably go through variations on this dance for years to come. Bettman and the NHL have sunk a lot into their Sun Belt strategy, for reasons that go beyond attendance. (Just think of the benefits to national TV and sponsorship deals from having a foothold in the country’s sixth-largest city.) They will try every last avenue to make this work.
But the team isn’t going to survive unless something changes, because no one wants to own a franchise that loses money. There’s no guarantee that a new arena in a new location would start drawing more fans—everyone dances around this point—but a new arena, mostly paid for with public money, does make the Coyotes a more valuable investment in a potential sale.
At the moment, the bill appears doomed. I look forward to fans in Seattle and Quebec City getting their hopes up again.