After the final whistle sounded at the Jobing.com arena in Glendale, Ariz., signaling that the Detroit Red Wings had just eliminated the Phoenix Coyotes from the 2010-11 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs in a four game sweep, the members of the Coyotes went back to their locker room to shower and change and head home for the night. In a few days they will come back to clean out their lockers, take their personal belongings home and spend the summer contemplating the future.
And there is plenty to contemplate.
Rumors have flourished this season about the future of the Phoenix Coyotes as the team looks to find a new owner and, possibly, a new home. While the NHL and the city of Glendale would love to see the Coyotes stay in Phoenix, huge shortfalls in revenue over the past several seasons as well as a variety of other circumstances make that a difficult achievement. In short, when the puck drops next season in early October, the Coyotes may no longer bear the Phoenix moniker – they may be honoring a new title city.
At this point, however, does anyone outside of Phoenix really even care what happens to the Coyotes next season?
This saga has been raging for over two years since it was found out at the end of 2008 that the Coyotes were losing an incredible amount of money and the NHL was helping to supplement the team. The organization filed for bankruptcy in early 2009. Jerry Moyes, then owner of the team, revealed that both the NHL and Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie had put in bids to purchase the team. Ultimately, the bankruptcy judge ruled that the team could not be sold to Balsillie, who intended to move the team to Hamilton, Ontario. The NHL eventually bought the team and immediately set to work on restructuring various lease agreements and other contracts to help put the team on a profitable track while also conducting negotiations with various suitors interested in purchasing the team from the NHL. A great write-up on the whole situation can be found here.
Thus far, all intended purchases of the team have fallen through. The NHL threatened to relocate the team to Winnipeg for this past season but opted against it when the city of Glendale agreed to fund the organization’s losses. The NHL posed a December 31, 2010 deadline for a sale, after which the NHL would relocate the team for the 2011-12 season if no sale took place. While another potential suitor stepped forward, the sale has been bogged down with lawsuits and other legal mumbo jumbo preventing the acquisition.
No fan outside of Phoenix cares where the team plays next season. Heck, it seems that people in Phoenix don’t care where the team plays next season, as is evident by their lackluster attendance numbers from the 2010-11 season where the team averaged a little over 12 thousand fans at each home game – second worst in the league behind the New York Islanders. Just for comparison, the Chicago Blackhawks averaged over 21 thousand fans for each of their home games. Over the past five seasons, the Coyotes have consistently been toward the bottom of the league in terms of average attendance.
Isn’t attendance what it really comes down to? People aren’t going to see this team play with a vigor commanded in other markets, such as Chicago. And with low attendance comes low revenue and low revenue equals a failing operation. Sure, there are tons of back stories and legalities coming into play in the Phoenix Coyotes saga, but the truth of the matter remains that there is not a strong fan base in Phoenix and both the city and the NHL need to realize that, own up to the fact that their Southwest expansion failed and move on.
The future is uncertain for the Phoenix Coyotes, and it’s a frustrating situation for the players on the team who have built their lives and grounded family roots in the Phoenix area only to face the possibility of uprooting and having to create lives in a new location. Still, it’s time to put an end to this saga and move forward with a solution. It doesn’t matter if the team moves back to Winnipeg, goes to Hamilton or even goes to Saudi Arabia. This issue needs to get resolved soon for the sake of the players, the fans, and everyone else who is sick of hearing about this saga as it drags on…and on…and on…