The Phoenix Coyotes sit fourth in the Western Conference with a 13-7-6 record. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
If NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was telling the truth when he said prospective Phoenix Coyotes owner Matthew Hulsizer “did a lot of due diligence” into the local hockey market, we’ll have to assume part of that due diligence included noticing that more than half their announced crowds this season have been less than 10,000.
Hulsizer impressed the executive committee of the NHL’s board of governors so much that, if it comes to full board vote, Hulsizer will have a unanimous endorsement from the most powerful men in the game. And why not? Anyone who would agree to take this donkey off the NHL’s hands is bound to be accepted with open arms.
There is some sort of fantasy world element that believes Hulsizer can make the NHL work in the desert. The only problem is that he’s beginning to believe it, too, when, in reality, this transaction has disaster plastered all over it.
Two red flags came up big-time in this corner, as we learned more about Hulsizer over the past two days of board of governors meetings. The first is that Hulsizer has a net worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million. That might sound like a lot of money to you and me, but it’s a pittance by NHL standards. You need a billionaire these days just to run a healthy NHL franchise. The last thing the NHL needs in Phoenix is an owner and a bunch of fellow investors who could develop a case of the shorts.
The second red flag came when Hulsizer talked about the prospect of being an NHL owner by saying, “I’d love to join the club.”
Hulsizer apparently wants to be part of the club so badly that it appears he’s willing to make a very, very bad investment just to get into the annual owners croquet game at the Breakers Resort. A quote like that tells me this transaction has “vanity purchase” written all over it.
One of several things could save Hulsizer. First, he could come to his senses and back out of the deal before it’s too late, which isn’t likely, since Bettman said Hulsizer is eager to get the deal done as quickly as possible. Second, he could fail to get a suitable lease with the City of Glendale, which would give him an out. The third, and least likely, is that the good citizens of Glendale get taken for granted and give Hulsizer the approximately $100 million in concessions he needs to offset his losses. And even then, all bets are off. The fourth would be that, as part of the purchase, Hulsizer would have an option to move the team when he realizes it won’t work in Arizona.
That doesn’t appear to be on the horizon as far as Bettman is concerned, though.
“If you’re asking me about relocation, he’ll be bound by a lease of a certain term… and we typically require a new owner of a franchise to commit to a certain period of time,” Bettman said. “If anybody is speculating that this is a short-term play, they are off the mark completely.”
Last season, I argued we truly didn’t know whether Phoenix was a good hockey market because the team had been so bad for so long that it never gave the market a chance. Well, now we know. This is a good, exciting team with some legitimate young talent and the people still aren’t coming.
My colleague Greg Wyshynski, a.k.a. Puck Daddy, will argue the low crowds are a result of the fact there is not a solid ownership group in place.
I would argue that with the following scenario: You’re a family of four and you’re looking for something exciting to do on a Friday night. The Coyotes are playing at the Jobing.com Arena and you’ve heard a lot about this dynamic young group of players. The team is doing well, tickets are reasonably priced and there’s the prospect of lots of gratuitous violence. But then you whack your forehead, turn to your wife and say, “We can’t go to the game tonight, honey. The team doesn’t have an owner, for goodness’ sake.”
It’s a notion you might be able to buy if the crowds were even mediocre, but when they’re this bad, you’re clearly not in a hockey market.
But Hulsizer seems to be intent on proving everyone wrong on this one and good on him if he manages to do so. It would be nothing but positive for the NHL for him to take this franchise and turn it into a moneymaker.
“(Hulsizer) gave his future partners, subject to approval, a realistic assessment as to the opportunities and the challenge,” Bettman said. “He thinks Phoenix is a terrific market and he thinks a well-run team with identifiable ownership can do very well there. He wouldn’t be doing this if he didn’t think it was a good opportunity. The governors who interviewed him were very comfortable with his focus and approach.”
All right then. Have at it, Mr. Hulsizer. And while you’re doing all that due diligence, we suggest you have a word with Jerry Moyes.
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