The Future of the Arizona Coyotes
Well folks there you have it: in a special meeting this previous Wednesday, the Glendale City Council terminated the contract between the Phoenix Coyotes and the Glendale owned Gila River Arena. In other words, as of the writing of this article, the Coyotes have no arena to play in for the 2015-2016 NHL season. With the schedule release less than a month away, the team and the NHL have plenty of things to figure out in a very short time span. Where is this NHL franchise going to play? Glendale? Phoenix? Or what about Quebec City or Seattle? The conversation of moving the Coyotes out of Glendale had started long before Wednesday night’s decision, but now is a good a time as ever to actually explore these options.
Staying in Glendale and at Gila River Arena:
Now while the arena the city council did just void lease, there is still a good chance that the decision will be overturned. The Coyotes owners’ are going to take the city to court and challenge the legality of voiding the contract and according to many experts, the Yotes should win this case in the courts. Rodney Smith, director of the sports law and business program at Arizona State University said that he “would much rather be on the Coyotes’ side than the city’s”. The NHL is going to be banking very heavily on an overturned decision as it would save them some headaches (for now). Even if the Coyotes do win the overruling and end up playing another season at Gila River Arena, this would only be a short-term fix to a bigger problem.
Moving back to Phoenix:
It was only a year ago that the “Arizona” Coyotes were the “Phoenix” Coyotes, and that is because the team shared an arena with the NBA Phoenix Suns in downtown Phoenix for seven years. Moving back down there is a legitimate short-term option, but it would be very challenging to work around already scheduled events including 41 booked nights from the Suns. Plus the arena is not very hockey friendly as the ice can barely fit on floor/court level. This removes seating availability and makes the capacity under 16,000, which would be the smallest in the league. The Yotes left for Glendale back in 2003-2004 for a reason, and I’m sure fans would not be too happy seeing their team back at Talking Stick Resort (formerly US Airways Center and America West Arena), an arena that has terrible sightlines for professional hockey viewing. If this backup plan had to be used, it would only be for one or two seasons at max. In order for hockey to stay in the desert, a new arena downtown would have to be built. If this turns out to be solution, expect to see many Coyotes fans looking like this next season (and not just because of their teams performance):
Now while the two prior solutions I have presented are much more realistic, relocation to a new city is also a possibility. With rumors of expansion running rampant, many new hockey markets are already being explored. Las Vegas has already tested the waters by running a ticket drive to gauge interest in addition to putting together a website that fellow Vegas hockey fanatics can peruse (https://www.vegaswantshockey.com), however their new arena will not be complete until Spring 2016. Seattle and Portland have also been mentioned as possible relocation/expansion cities, but neither possesses the resources for immediate relocation for the Coyotes. The only real candidate for immediate relocation would be Quebec City. A “New Nordiques” team would have a state-of-the-art arena in place by the start of next season, and the hockey infrastructure is there due to the fact that Quebec City is located in hockey-crazy Canada. The chips all seem to be in place for the Nordiques and their classic blue sweaters to be resurrected this fall, but that doesn’t mean it is just going happen. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has repeatedly put the brakes on the Quebec City expansion due to an imbalance in conference teams. If the move was to happen, the already larger Eastern Conference would gain another team and the West would be down to only 13 teams. The whole conference dilemma does make the move unlikely, but don’t rule out the Coyotes and the NHL being very desperate if some court decisions do not go their respective ways.
By opting out of a 15-year lease just two-years in, the Glendale City Council has put the Arizona Coyotes in a sticky situation once again. Sure, the Coyotes owners may win the case and their may be hockey in Gila River Arena once again this fall, but Glendale has made it pretty clear that they will not support professional hockey in their city and honestly I can’t blame them. The team has consistently been poor on the ice and this is reflective in their marketability and their lack of attendance (28th out of 30th). The team sucks, no one is going to games, and now the city’s court is no longer behind them. With this in mind, any court overruling seems like just a short-term solution and a way to buy some time until a long-term answer is found. Maybe it is sharing a new arena in downtown Phoenix with the Suns, or maybe it is moving up North of the border; either way, professional hockey in Glendale, Arizona seems very, very unlikely after this upcoming season.