There’s little that can surprise anyone when it comes to the Arizona Coyotes anymore. They’re being kicked out of their building after this season. They were nearly kicked out in the middle of it. It’s apparently an abhorrent place to work. The owner might not have any actual money. And the team has sucked pond scum for just about a decade now.
So when the news broke last week that the Yotes are basically asking their college buddies if they can crash on the couch while they “just figure some shit out,” it barely caused an eyebrow to twitch. But as the details came out, you wonder how a league could go along with such a thing, as it will make them look even more Mickey Mouse than they already do.
The deal is that because the Yotes have nowhere to play for next season, they would like to move into Arizona State’s multi-purpose athletic facility while their new arena is built. That last part is key, because there is no guarantee that the Coyotes are going to get their new Tempe arena/entertainment district that they’ve been dreaming about for a few years. The bill on that is $1.7 billion, and given the fact they struggled to pay their bills in Glendale, the Tempe City Council isn’t exactly sprinting to be in business with the team.
Tempe has been considered a better location for the Yotes because of its closer proximity to Scottsdale and Phoenix than Glendale, but nothing is assured. And the game of chicken about finding out about its new arena and what it will do next year is coming to a head.
If the Yotes are going to get that Tempe arena, it wouldn’t be ready for a few years, which means an interim plan. Which is where ASU comes in. They currently have a 5,000-seat facility where its hockey team plays, among others. But as you might imagine, moving to a college arena — a college arena for a mid-level program at best — presents challenges for a pro team. One, the Coytes and Sun Devils can’t share locker rooms or training facilities, like a weight room and such, so the Yotes will have to build an annex next to the building housing all of those things. And they’ll have to foot the bill. The reported invoice on that is a shade less than $20 million, which one would assume is change in the dashboard for a professional sports team owner. But again, Alex Meruelo couldn’t pay his taxes in Glendale just over a month ago, so nothing is a straight shot here.
Another problem is that ASU still has first call on using the building, which means the Coyotes couldn’t get a home game until December 2022, at least at the moment, which means starting the season’s first six weeks (at least) on the road. Also, college hockey games are almost exclusively Friday and Saturday night doubleheaders, which means the Coyotes would only have a smattering of those nights, the most likely to attract fans. At best, they’ll have half of them available, and NHL scheduling probably isn’t going to give them all of those dates.
The Coyotes will also lose out on sponsorship deals, because on-ice ads or ads along the boards aren’t worth as much when some frat boys are going to be the only ones to see them.
And yet Gary Bettman, who apparently will implode like a Spinal Tap drummer if he ever admits he was wrong, is fine with all of this. At his state of the league address during All-Star weekend, Bettman was almost sanguine about the whole thing. Bettman claimed they might even do better at this tiny outpost, basically giving away the game on how many fans the Yotes draw on a given night now. He also said it’s not much of a problem because the Coyotes already receive the maximum in revenue sharing.
Which is another problem. On the 32 Thoughts Podcast, hockey bigfoot Elliotte Friedman said there’s more than a handful of owners wondering why they have to subsidize this farce, and want the league to take away Arizona’s revenue sharing portion, which they only get due to their own incompetence. Without that aid from the rest of the NHL, it’s doubtful that this plan will work for the Coyotes. WIthout an approval of their new arena, it definitely won’t.
Once again, this is Bettman desperately holding onto his “Southern Strategy,” which might be the only positive thing his tenure is remembered for to oppose the legacy of repeated lockouts. And it has worked partially. Nashville and Tampa are great hockey markets. Carolina can be when the Canes are good. We’ll find out if South Florida can be saved this year as the Panthers are maybe the league’s best team, certainly the most entertaining. If people won’t come out to watch this version of the Panthers, Bettman may have another headache on his hands.
The Coyotes have seemingly gone bust though, and yet no one wants to admit it. It’s unfortunate that what fans are left in Arizona have been treated to ownerships from crooks, frauds, and the truly lost for pretty much their entire existence. But sometimes something gets broken past the point of repair. Retrofitting a college multi-use building would certainly signal that Arizona is there.