The Coyotes have had trouble getting fans out to Jobing.com Arena. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
It’s safe to say that, short of giving the Phoenix Coyotes away for nothing, the NHL has done its part to keep hockey in the desert. Nobody could or would ever be able to accuse the league of abandoning a market if it moved the Coyotes.
It’s also safe to say that the good people of Glendale have done their part, bending over backward and putting themselves further in debt to save a team few people have interest in watching.
And it’s very safe to say that Greg Jamison has done his part. He secured $308 million in concessions from Glendale and, even with the sweetest deal imaginable, could not even come close to securing enough investors to buy the team. That’s because people know that if you stroke a check to be part of an ownership group today, it will be just the first in a long line of checks you’ll have to sign when the cash calls come to cover losses.
Nothing terribly new here, but the evidence is irrefutable. Hockey is dead in Phoenix. And there appears to be no sense in continuing to try to beat it to life. After announcing a “sellout” crowd of 17,363 for their home opener, two of their next five home games drew fewer than 9,000 fans. Their average attendance through six games is 12,364, but that number is less when you account for number of tickets given away.
The time has come for the league to move the Coyotes to another market. If the league did that, however, it would mean it would miss out on coveted expansion fees. But what if the league treated the sale of the Coyotes, or any other team, as they would an expansion team?
Let’s say the following scenario unfolds in the next couple of months (hint, hint). Chicago Wolves owner Don Levin, who has been at the forefront of talk of the NHL going to Seattle, teams up with former Tampa Bay Lightning owner Oren Koules and former Coyotes suitor Matthew Hulsizer to buy the Coyotes and move them to Seattle.
They meet the NHL’s announced purchase price of $170 million, which would remain in place if they elected to keep the team in Phoenix. But once they move to Seattle, likely after this season, they would have to pay a minimum $100 million relocation fee. The same thing would apply to Quebec City and/or Toronto when it comes to getting a team, except it would be part of a two-tiered system in which teams that go to better markets pay a higher relocation fee.
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the Florida Panthers are next on the list for relocation. Either the Quebec City or Toronto group buys the team for whatever they’re deemed to be worth, then moves it for a relocation fee somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million. The NHL moves a team to a revenue-generating market without losing out on its expansion money.
There is, of course, the matter of there being no suitable arena in Seattle. It’s a valid point, but there is one on the way and speculation is the Sacramento Kings are primed to relocate there. And the Seattle team could play out of the Key Arena on a temporary basis. It’s not ideal, since the Key Arena has only 9,000 unobstructed seats for hockey. But wouldn’t the NHL rather have at least 9,000 paying customers in Seattle with a new arena on the way than what’s taking place in Phoenix?
This move would require Levin, Hulsizer and Koules to absorb som1)e big losses the first couple of years while the new arena is being built. But that’s the cost of getting an NHL team that is going to make some serious money in what should be a very good hockey market. The Coyotes need to be saved now, not two or three years from now when there’s a place for them to land.
Editor's note: A paragraph containing incorrect math was removed.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.