Alex Meruelo: Coyotes’ failure in Arizona ‘starts from the beginning’

Apr 18, 2024, 3:25 PM | Updated: Apr 19, 2024, 7:40 am

Arizona Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo wanted to make it clear that is very much still his title when he joined Arizona Sports following the official sale of the franchise and it being relocated.

Meruelo clarified several times in his exclusive interview with Burns & Gambo that he still owns the team. The Coyotes are “inactive” and per the league agreement, he will have five years to reactivate the Coyotes if he is able to get an arena up and running within that window.

Meruelo states he never had any intentions to sell the team. He had a meeting with the NHL on March 6 and reiterated the lack of desire to sell before the league asked Meruelo if he can tell his players he knows when he can expect to have an arena built.

“I looked at them and stared and said, ‘No,'” Meruelo said.

As far as how the Coyotes arrived here and what went wrong, Meruelo initially focused on time before his tenure.

“Look, I would say it really starts from the beginning,” Meruelo said. “There’s not one mistake. It starts from the beginning. They come here and play in Phoenix arena and there were so many obstructed views of seats that they had to relocate to Glendale.

“Glendale was another mistake because it was so far away from the public and the fans that they could never generate the attendance that was necessary. So that was another failure. It just didn’t work.”

Meruelo then admitted in arena negotiations he thought the other side was bluffing.

“I was kicked out of the arena,” he said. “They asked me to sign for 20 years and I said I wouldn’t do that and when I said no they said they would kick me out. I didn’t think they would do it and they did. They thought for sure I would never have enough time to relocate it to another city.”

Meruelo cites that thought from Desert Diamond Arena as wrong, noting the amount of success the Coyotes have had financially in Tempe compared to Glendale defies that notion. Meruelo fails to clarify this was not in a permanent home, thus putting the franchise in a situation where it had to relocate to another state and be sold.

As far as the permanent Tempe arena vote not passing, Meruelo offered his perspective on why that did not work.

“When the public does not understand and they believe all you gotta say it’s a billionaire tax, help or giving free money to a billionaire, they don’t go for it,” Meruelo said. “And even though it’s not true, I’m not asking for anything, I wasn’t asking for any tax abatements or help from the public —  for whatever reason they didn’t understand that and didn’t accept it.”

The owner focused intently on his upcoming efforts to come through on a new arena, and thus, create a rebirth of the Coyotes franchise as a future expansion team. What this is unable to cover is 1) how it wipes the history of the Coyotes and attaches it to another franchise, 2) the five-year gap of no NHL hockey in Arizona and 3) the Coyotes’ inability to reap the benefits of a promising young roster via a teardown rebuild done over the last few seasons.

How does Meruelo feel for the fans in terms of that downside and losing some of their favorite players?

“It’s horrible. I apologize,” Meruelo said. “It’s something that I tried at every cost to avoid and what I take solace in is understanding that (what’s) more [important] is the career of these players. To keep them here in a campus facility for 3-4 years was not right. I had to come to a realization. … It’s not fair to them or their families.”

Meruelo called the players his “kids” and cited how they were hand-picked for the organization, labeling those conversations ahead of the move as “gut-wrenching.”

He said he remains committed to the Coyotes in Arizona.

“My goal is to do what has to be done from Day 1, is build the Coyotes a facility, an arena they should be proud of that they can call their house, their home,” he said.

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