First things first:
No matter how the Phoenix Coyotes ownership saga unfolded, there was zero chance the NHL team would have been relocated to Quebec City. That long-suspected fact was confirmed by a member of the NHL board of governors.
Quebec may be in line for a franchise some time down the road, but Seattle would have landed the Coyotes if Glendale’s city council had rejected a new lease deal for the team during a lengthy, contentious and sometimes wildly entertaining council meeting Tuesday night.
Instead, by a 4-3 margin, city council for the financially strapped community approved a 15-year, $225-million (all currency U.S.) subsidy (in the form of a favourable arena-lease agreement) to keep the Coyotes in Glendale, paving the way for them to stay under new ownership.
Renaissance Sports and Entertainment (RSE), a group headed by Canadian businessmen George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc, have until Aug. 5 to complete the purchase of the team from the NHL, but that is considered mostly a formality at this stage.
The single biggest hurdle – an arena deal to help cover the projected losses for a franchise bleeding red ink – was overcome.
RSE protected itself by negotiating an out clause in case the franchise remains a fiscal black hole. If losses accumulate to $50-million over five years, it has the right to move the team.
So consider this a stay-of-execution only, a chance for the metropolitan Phoenix area to prove once and for all it is a hockey town.
The Coyotes actually drew pretty well in the early days, when they shared space in the downtown U.S. Airways Center with the National Basketball Association’s Phoenix Suns.
But on the western outskirts, in Glendale, despite a state-of-the-art building (Jobing.com Arena), it is still difficult for many potential customers in the area to attend weeknight games.
In June, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman insisted the team’s inability to draw spectators was largely the result of the uncertainty over the franchise’s future in the marketplace. As recently as his Stanley Cup press conference, Bettman contended ownership stability would permit the team to be marketed properly.
“If there was certainty surrounding this franchise, its fortunes would improve dramatically just by virtue of putting in a real owner,” he said.
Bettman received a standing ovation when he walked into Tuesday’s council meeting, an acknowledgment he has stood by the team through a lot of lean years. As part of his operating philosophy, Bettman stubbornly resists relocation and sees it only as a measure of last resort.
In other markets – Pittsburgh and Buffalo are examples – his persistence in keeping the Penguins and Sabres in place was rewarded. Both franchises made complete financial aboutfaces, going from weak financial links to strong solid businesses.
On Tuesday, RSE added a new partner to its ownership group, a company called Global Spectrum, a subsidiary of Comcast-Spectacor which manages more than 100 sports and entertainment facilities around the world.
The thinking is Global Spectrum’s presence will help attract additional live events to Jobing.com Arena and thus make the proposition more fiscally sound by creating additional secondary revenue streams beyond what 45-plus NHL home dates provide.
The Coyotes franchise has been run on a financial shoestring since the NHL seized control from former owner Jerry Moyes in 2009, But general manager Don Maloney and head coach Dave Tippett have done remarkable jobs in keeping the team competitive.
Two years ago, the Coyotes made it to the Stanley Cup semi-finals and filled the building with enthusiastic fans. So there is some potential there. But in the end, the Coyotes will need to fill the building for mid-week games against teams not named the Detroit Red Wings or Chicago Blackhawks to succeed long-term.
For now, the NHL’s longest-running soap opera is finally, blessedly, over.