Yesterday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman surprised some by sending a letter to the Arizona Legislature stating that the Arizona Coyotes hockey team could not be profitable in Glendale at the Gila River Arena.
“For the past 15 years, a succession of ownership groups have tried everything imaginable to make the Glendale location financial sustainable,” said the letter. “Our combined efforts have all yielded the same result — a consistent economic loss.”
On Wednesday, however, Bettman was sure to reaffirm the league’s commitment to keeping the Coyotes in the greater Phoenix area.
Now, we’ve been down this road before. I’ve personally composed countless articles on the subject, so a lot of this sounds intensely if not hilariously familiar.
But here we are.
The issue this time around is that Bettman wants the state of Arizona to pass Senate Bill 1149, which would help finance an arena for the Coyotes closer to downtown Phoenix.
In essence, Bettman is over the Coyotes operating in Glendale because he feels he hasn’t received the cooperation necessary for holding viable operations.
“There is a bill pending, and I believe the city of Glendale was lobbying, saying if the other municipalities…don’t approve it, then the team will have to stay in Glendale,” Bettman said on Wednesday. “That’s not going to be the case. The team has got a number of options and is going to pursue them, so nobody should think that the team is moving other than out of Glendale.”
Bettman says he is very confident that the team will remain in Arizona, but he’s been very clear that the Coyotes are looking for a new home. The process will take several years and the “long-term viability” of the franchise is not in Glendale.
Bettman added that the construction of a new facility for the Coyotes would not add any debt to the state or create financial risk or use state tax dollars, plus he noted the creation of jobs associated with the new arena.
The other end of this arrangement is Glendale, of course, and they’re fighting to maintain the investment they made in the franchise. And rightly so.
But for now, it’s about making promises and shaking hands. Bettman’s job is to sell the game and it’s possible that he really wants to ensure the market maintains itself in Arizona, where hockey is growing and where Auston Matthews cut his teeth.
But it’s also possible that Bettman will eventually fold up the tents and ship the operation out of the state at long last, with operations possible in places like Seattle or Quebec City and the promise of a more viable hockey system elsewhere.
For now, the drama is far from over and the fight is on. And so is the sales pitch.