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Deal to Keep Coyotes in Phoenix in Shambles

NHL looking for new options

For sale: One distressed National Hockey League franchise priced below market value.

Interested? Well, then let’s sweeten the pot. In exchange for taking control of the franchise, the host community will offer the free use of an arena and pay you an average of $15.4 million a year, totaling $308 million in taxpayer dollars, which you are free to spend any way you want.

Done rubbing your eyes? Yes, that was the deal offered by the City of Glendale, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, to businessman Greg Jamison to keep the NHL playing at Arena for the next two decades.

The offer did not come without a great deal of controversy and a number of do-overs. In fact, no fewer than seven different ownership proposals and financial configurations have been put forth for the sale of the Coyotes and keeping them in Phoenix long-term. None of them have panned out.

The Glendale City Council approved the mammoth deal in November by a 4-2 vote, including “aye” votes from lame-duck councilmembers who were set to be replaced by incoming councilmembers not as amenable to any deal involving pubic subsidies. Jamison’s investment group was set to close on the deal on January 31, paying the league $170 million to acquire the struggling franchise.

January 31 came and went, and no one knows quite for sure why Jamison failed to hold up his end of the deal. Rumor has it that in the days leading up to the closing, Jamison was frantically passing the hat among his investors, trying to come up with new dollars to meet the purchase price. He purportedly even approached the league for loans or other financial support. While all this was going on, parties from all sides reiterated their assurances that all was fine and that the deal would get done. It didn’t happen.

So now what?

Jamison says he remains interested, but with the $308 million subsidy off the table, and no political will to come up with a package like that again, everyone is skeptical that there will be another bite at the apple for him.

Media outlets in Arizona have discussed the possibility that a local Indian tribe in the desert could take over the team and move them into a new arena elsewhere in the valley surrounding Phoenix. With hockey so unpopular in Glendale, the financial success of such a move would be suspect. Furthermore, the reason for the big subsidy in Glendale in the first place is that their arena serves as an anchor for a mixed-use development called Westgate, which has attracted thousands of residents and scores of retail and businesses in the few years since it opened. A dark and empty arena would surely serve as a drag on further interest and investment in the neighborhood.

There are old suitors—Matthew Hulsizer of Ice Edge Holdings LLC, and Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf could return to the picture to save the Coyotes. An oil executive from Alberta named Bill Gallacher, who owns a junior team in the WHL, might enter the mix.

More likely, the team will at long last be sold to outside interests, who will pay more than the $170 million agreed on to keep the team in Phoenix. Speculation is all over the map: The team could be moved to Seattle, where plans are underway for a new arena that might house the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, another franchise in relocation play right now. The Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon, would certainly be a good fit for the NHL. In Markham, Ontario, near Toronto, the local council just approved plans for a 20,000-seat, NHL-ready arena, on the premise that “If we build it, they will come.” Cranes are in the air in Quebec City for a gleaming new arena to replace Le Pepsi Colisee, and all indications are that the return of the NHL to that city would be the hottest ticket going.

The league, the City of Glendale, and the team all released tepid statements promising to work together to find a solution. The only certainty is this: The team will continue to be called the Phoenix Coyotes and play at Arena for the rest of this season. They will continue to be last in attendance—game average 12,438 so far, with many “purchased” seats offered via deep discounts and promotions.

After that, what happens next is anyone’s guess

Taro Sez...

• Cheers to eight-year-old anthem singer Baylee Morrison of Macedon, outside of Rochester. A last-minute call-up from the minors, young Morrison brought the house down prior to last Thursday’s Sabres/Canadiens game, garnering a huge ovation and tons of positive feedback on social media sites. Baylee will be singing the anthems at this Sunday’s Rochester Americans game at Blue Cross Arena.

• Did anyone expect German defenseman Alexander Sulzer to be in fifth place in team scoring at the season’s quarter mark? Didn’t think so.

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