While the Arizona Coyotes made some progress on the ice this season by narrowly missing the playoffs, their progress to acquire new ownership has lagged noticeably.
Team Improves But New Ownership is Needed
There have been innumerable rumours of the Arizona Coyotes possible relocation. The fact that they are being sent to the Central Division starting in the 2020-21 season only fuels that chatter. The talk has been that they could move to Houston. There is an owner (Tilman Fertitta) ready to accept an NHL team. That owner currently owns the Houston Rockets NBA franchise.
A transplanted Coyotes team could play in the Toyota Center where the Rockets currently play. Some renovations to configure it for NHL hockey would need to be made.
Fertitta is estimated to be worth $3.1 billion and purchased the Rockets for $2.2 billion. He has already met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to get an idea of the entire process of acquiring a franchise.
If there is any chance of keeping the Arizona Coyotes in Arizona, the ownership question needs to be addressed. Andrew Barroway has stated that he’d like to sell a majority stake of the team. The team has a rather steep valuation set at $500 million. The problem is the franchise has an approximate $250-$300 million debt which $50 million is a return on a $50 million loan. He may like to still be a minority owner, but that debt may be a stumbling block to consummate a deal to sell the team.
Barroway is a hedge fund manager and realizes risk when he sees it. His overzealous purchase of the Coyotes may have fulfilled a personal or family dream to own a sports franchise. Right now the reality of losing money must have hit him in the head like a Matthew Tkachuk cross check.
Yet, we hear very little news of a new ownership group. David Pagnotta the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Period reported, “there doesn’t seem to be much significant traction” regarding a sale. Multiple groups have been attempting to purchase the team.
One interested group could be nearing the point of a deal but nothing is happening anytime soon. That’s not good news for a team who has shown some progress on the ice. If the team can make the playoffs next season the talk of moving the team may subside.
There had been hopes of announcing a new ownership deal at the NHL’s Board of Governors meeting last December but that didn’t happen.
The Difficulties In The Desert
Sports franchise sales are complicated business dealings. This doesn’t allow the Coyotes’ fan base to have any confidence that the NHL will remain in Arizona. An announcement is likely before the start of next season, at the latest. This may control any more rumours of a possible move.
Then, there’s the important detail of where the team will play if they remain in Arizona under new ownership. Gary Bettman has stated that the team needs to be playing in the East Valley where an abundant fan base exists. Commuting to the Glendale area where Gila River Arena is located has been a detriment in attracting fans to fill the arena. Additionally, The lease of Gila River Arena is on a yearly basis which tends to make one wonder if they’re intending to stay here after all.
Attendance numbers lag near the bottom of the league and that can only mean they could continue to lose money.
There is the possibility of reopening talks of partnering with ASU about an arena collaboration. They discussed this previously but in February of 2017, Arizona State University decided to back out of that venture.
Talk of a new arena will not happen until the new ownership group is announcement happens. There are many unknowns. Will the new ownership group move the team to say… Houston where they can possibly fill the arena like most NHL arenas? Or will they work a deal to build a new arena in the East Valley to keep the franchise here?
Team Is Playing Better Despite Ownership Questions
The heartbreak for any fan of the Coyotes is for a new ownership group to come in and move the team elsewhere. This would be after their 16-point improvement in the standings this season. There is a renewed excitement about the possibilities of this team being a playoff team next season.
Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka has done a good job of improving the team through trades and the draft. He realizes that he must improve the team’s lack of scoring. Over the summer it’s a sure thing that he will address that.
It is likely that he has about $6 million in cap space if the cap ceiling is not raised again. That’s not much to entice a couple of free agents who can score to come to Arizona. However, Chayka still needs to address this if he wants to keep pending free agents around next season. Players like Calvin Pickard, Ilya Lyubushkin, Josh Archibald, Mario Kempe, Lawson Crouse, Nick Cousins, and lastly Richard Panik. He has been known to pull off some trades when the need occurs, so that will be something to watch this summer.
All of this is fine and good but until the lingering ownership questions get answered this team is stuck in neutral.
Knowing who owns the team and where they are going to play long-term are issues that any free agent will want to take a look at before committing to play in Arizona.