The Arizona Coyotes have never been a franchise known for stability. Since the Coyotes arrived in the Arizona desert in 1996, they’ve struggled with a variety of issues, many of which were related to team operations. Finances have been a constant concern since day one. Despite this dysfunction, they managed to stay afloat and even won a division title in 2011-2012.
While there have been plenty of dark moments during the Coyotes’ tenure in the desert, perhaps none have been more embarrassing than what has transpired over the past few months. After a messy rift with the city of Glendale, the Coyotes were left homeless and the agreed solution will see the team play on a local college campus.
Yes, the Arizona Coyotes are going to play at Arizona State University in a stadium that can hold 5,000 fans. It’s like the Canucks are constantly moving to play Thunderbird Arena on the UBC campus, which, it should be noted, has 5,004 permanent seats, exceeding the capacity of the Coyotes’ new home.
The NHL already plays a little brother role in North American sports, behind the MLB, NFL and NBA in every imaginable parameter. Hockey is a great product, but the fact remains that it doesn’t sell in all American markets and trying to force it leads to embarrassing situations like this that only attack the legitimacy of the league.
How can you claim that the NHL produces the same quality product as these other leagues when one of the franchises plays on a college campus?
The Coyotes’ situation has gone from bad to worse and it’s time for the NHL to step in and take serious action before it becomes catastrophic.
The story of the Coyotes’ financial difficulties
The Coyotes and money troubles are old friends. One of the biggest scandals since the team moved to Arizona occurred in 2008 when it was discovered that the league was subsidizing the team’s massive financial losses. The team was losing tens of millions of dollars a year, and then-owner Jerry Moyes sold the Coyotes to the NHL after lengthy bankruptcy court proceedings.
However, it wasn’t before Moyes attempted to sell the team to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie who made his fortune as an early employee of Research in Motion, the company that launched the Blackberry. Balsillie intended to bail the team out of debt and move it to Hamilton, Ontario. That plan might have helped the Coyotes avoid the mess they’re currently stuck in today, even if it wasn’t meant to be like the NHL finally took over the franchise.
After many years of financial turmoil, a majority stake was finally acquired by Alex Meruelo. The purchase was meant to represent a new era for the Coyotes, one that would hopefully be defined by a stability that had eluded the franchise for years.
However, that was not the case.
The problems continue in the desert
When Katie Strang at Athleticism published her investigative piece on the Coyotes in February 2021, she revealed that Meruelo’s arrival was the change in fortune everyone had been hoping for, in fact, it was a turning point for the worse in some ways. Players not receiving their payments on time, employees describing the workplace as toxic and at least one alleged case of sexual harassment were among the bombshells reported.
Fast forward to the present day and the Coyotes are back in the spotlight as they prepare to play in a stadium designed for college kids. The current plan is for the stadium to host the NHL team until at least the 2023-24 season with an option for next season.
“At the end of the day, if there’s going to be temporary accommodation – knowing that a new building is coming, obviously it can’t be indefinite – I think they can create a great experience for people in a more intimate setting , “Commissioner Gary Bettman recently commented. “It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve been in a small temporary facility while we wait for a new arena to be built.
Two full seasons with the potential for a third is a long time for the Coyotes to play in this rink. To say that the rink could provide an intimate setting for the games is a terrible excuse. It’s an NHL hockey game, not a fancy restaurant. Fans want noise and an intense atmosphere, not an intimate setting.
Move the team.
Placing teams in non-traditional markets has had mixed results. Some worked well while others struggled. The Coyotes have been in trouble since day one and it’s time for the NHL to cut its losses. Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way.
“It’s a good market,” Bettman said. “This is a franchise that has had its challenges, some of which were beyond its control, and as long as there is a commitment and a future for a new building, it will be worth sticking with.”
Bettman seems determined to keep his favorite project in the desert. However, if things continue on this path, it’s only a matter of time before the Coyotes need to escape the heat with Quebec, Hamilton and many other cities waiting with open arms.
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