DAN BICKLEY

Fresh start in Tempe is exactly what the Coyotes need to succeed

Aug 19, 2021, 4:57 PM
Coyotes fans cheer on their team in the second period while taking on the Los Angeles Kings in Game...
Coyotes fans cheer on their team in the second period while taking on the Los Angeles Kings in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Jobing.com Arena on May 22, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Outside, the temperature peaked at 107 degrees. Inside, blasts of air conditioning greeted the sweating masses, cooling and fueling 17,148 people who poured into the arena for Game 5 of the 2012 Western Conference Finals.

The Coyotes were eliminated a few hours later, losing to the Kings in overtime. But the stage was sublime. The moment was nirvana. It was late May and our NHL team was competing for a Stanley Cup, offering some of the finest spectacle in sport as well as sweet relief from the oppressing heat.

It was the high-water mark between the Coyotes and their business partner, the City of Glendale. It was a snapshot of what could’ve been and never was again.

A doomed relationship finally received an expiration date on Thursday. Like a landlord kicking out an unruly, unreliable tenant who doesn’t always pay the rent on time, Glendale announced they were ending their dealings with the Coyotes after the upcoming season.

The reaction was a mixture of gasps and yawns, of fear and apathy.

This does not mean the Coyotes are going anywhere anytime soon. Bottom line: The Coyotes are attempting to relocate to a prime location in Tempe.

Their owner has one of the golden tickets in Arizona, the ability to create a sportsbook for legal wagering. He might have to bend and scramble to fund the deal because no taxpayer relief or political capital is forthcoming. If he thinks otherwise, he is a fool.

But if he can partner up with Tempe on a location near the intersection of Priest Drive and Rio Salado Parkway – building his own entertainment district – it will be worth every penny.

In theory, that would also leave the Coyotes homeless for two seasons, maybe even three. The Suns have made it clear they are not shopping for roommates. To date, Arizona State has also been disinclined to pair up with the Coyotes in their intimate new arena.

But if NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wants the Coyotes in Arizona, and if Alex Meruelo seduces Tempe city leaders with his proposal, our hockey team will find a way. They could play at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. They could play a chunk of their home schedule at Chase Field. They could change Glendale’s mind by squaring up old debts and increasing rent payments in the short term.

If a new arena becomes a reality, the NHL will help the Coyotes do whatever it takes to forge a new beginning in Arizona. And that’s exactly what they need.

Hockey can work in a desert. Las Vegas is proof.

Hockey can also grow deep in our communities even without a good NHL product, as proven by the spectacular grass roots movement in Arizona that has spawned a college program at ASU and countless young prospects. If anything, the Coyotes’ tenure in Glendale only proves the famous real estate tenet: location, location, location.

The Coyotes have been caught in a vicious circle. They might have a sweetheart lease but their revenue streams are more like kiddie pools. They can never afford premium talent. When they try to sign marquee players, it’s never a long-term commitment because the financial losses are too severe. Even the most successful, wealthy businessmen who try their hand at NHL ownership in Arizona get sick and tired of all the red ink. Nobody likes to lose money.

As a result, the Coyotes have rarely peddled in the giddy currency of playoff hockey, a time when the sport draws in mainstream fans, commercial sponsors and new business opportunities. When a freezing rink and an ice cold beer is exactly what you’re craving on a sweltering day in May.

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