How strange that what seems a simple solution to the CBA mess eludes the NHL while the seemingly irreparable Phoenix Coyotes situation gets resolved (allegedly).
Any number of us would have bet money that it’s easier to cheerfully divide $3.3 billion in revenues among a party of two (owners/players) than it is to prop up a hopeless money-loser like the Coyotes.
What do we know?
The same NHL, headed by commissioner Gary Bettman, that stands resolute against the players’ association forces in a lockout also steadfastly refused to allow Jerry Moyes to sell the Coyotes to RIM co-founder Jim Balsillie. This led to a court case, and ultimately the league’s $140-million purchase of the Coyotes at auction.
When any layman would have proposed moving the Coyotes to another market, the NHL kept the team in Glendale against all odds, and watched it achieve unprecedented playoff success last spring before losing the Western Final to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings.
If only one good playoff run meant fiscal peace.
On Tuesday night, Glendale City Council approved a 20-year, $320-million lease for Jobing.com Arena, which paves the way for former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison to buy the NHL club from the league in the weeks ahead at a reported cost of $170 million. Jamison has declined to disclose his financial backers, and now has a former Glendale employee on staff.
The two councillors opposed to the deal argued that Jamison, who will be provided roughly $15 million per year to manage the arena, is essentially receiving a subsidy. According to the lease agreement, there are penalties applied if Jamison doesn’t stage 40 hockey games per season (uh-oh, lockout alert), and the deal includes incentives to book addition non-hockey events.
Got all that? Well, there’s lots more to comprehend, beginning with this parting gift: Four of the seven city councillors will be replaced in January, as the result of a recent election. Hope the incoming councillors enjoy what they’re about to inherit.
That includes the sad reality that hockey in Glendale is a costly frill. In the past year, Glendale’s $30-million budget shortfall cost jobs, including to local police and fire departments, while community facilities were closed. Twice, the council has pledged $25 million to the NHL to operate the club and keep it in Glendale.
Imagine yourself a non-hockey fan in Glendale – and there are a few – dealing with this money pit.
The lease deal just approved by a 4-2 vote will launch of new set of costs (acting city manager Horatio Skeete – Horatio at the Bridge – had recommended against the deal). Specifically, Glendale is expected to have to make $17 million in job and service cuts over the next five years, a number that would have been just $10 million or so without the arena lease deal.
According to Skeete, Glendale comes out on the losing end, with or without the lease agreement. It is a matter of degrees.
I spent some time in Arizona with my family this summer. The second thing that strikes you – the first being the heat – is how far Glendale, population 230,000, is from the bigger city of Phoenix and, especially, from trendy Scottsdale.
After landing at the Phoenix Sky Harbour airport, we drove west and then north on Highway 17, getting the growing sense of leaving the city borders as we headed for the red rock of Sedona. Suddenly, more than 27 miles and about 40 minutes from the airport, we saw signs for Glendale, home of the Coyotes. From Scottsdale, the arena is slightly farther away.
It is one thing to hear that the arena is in a bad location, another to drive it first hand, imagining a season ticket holder making the trek on a regular basis in Phoenix rush hour traffic.
Fans of the Ottawa Senators will tell you the 417 connecting Orleans to Kanata can be a chore on a weeknight, but for marginal hockey fans of a marginal NHL franchise like the Coyotes, Glendale is a bridge too far.
For now, though, Jamison has his lease and he may soon have his team. We wish we could say this will be the end of the hardships in Glendale, a major step toward “a positive ownership resolution for the Coyotes and their fans,” as NHL deputy commissioner Bill Day called it on Wednesday.
Unfortunately, the Phoenix hockey story has been too big a mess to come together by virtue of a single council vote, the ramifications of which will be played out in the years to come.
Meanwhile the lockout entered its 74th day on Wednesday, for the first time with a mediator involved. Compared to Phoenix, it seems the easier dilemma, finding middle ground between the players and the league coming off prosperous years, but logic and the NHL rarely get on the same page these days.