Gary Bettman, the chief drawer of lines in the sand over the past four years during the NHL ‘sownership of the Phoenix Coyotes, made another one Thursday. This time he says he really means it: If the city of Glendale fails to guarantee the franchise by Tuesday a $15 million annual public subsidy, the team will be sold out of town. Really.
That means Seattle, the latest city of pro sports record to hold the paperwork to “Plan B,” may be in line to inherit the Coyotes for a planned arena developed by Chris Hansen in SoDo that has yet to be approved.
“If the council doesn’t approve it so this transaction can close, I don’t think the Coyotes will be playing there anymore,” Bettman said in New York Thursday after an annual meeting of the NHL Board of Governors. “The fact of the matter is we haven’t ironed out or put into effect a Plan B. We have lots of options.
“I find it difficult to conceive why, if the council turns this down, we would want to keep the team in Glendale any longer. We would then, if they turn it down, have to deal with possibilities and the options that will be available to us. And they are numerous. There is enough time.”
NHL training camps begin in 2½ months, and the schedule must be released in early July, so there is little debate that urgency is upon the city and the league. A vote of the council is scheduled for Tuesday on a proposal from Renaissance Sports & Entertainment group to buy the club from the NHL for $170 million as long as the guarantee is in place to help obtain commercial loans.
Glendale is facing a dilemma: Continuing to contribute tax dollars to a money-losing franchise, or see multiple businesses lose money or close because of the arena’s loss of its anchor tenant.
Unlike the circumstances surrounding the NBA Kings in Sacramento, there is no large, untapped local momentum to save the team in a busy sports market. The league has long been trying to sell the franchise to a series of would-be buyers. Now that the NHL owners have a new collective bargaining agreement with the players union that they can live with, patience has run out.
Hansen, the Seattle native who tried and failed to get the Kings to Seattle, is eager to regain momentum for his arena project. He said publicly he is open to an NHL-first arrangement, as long as the city council rewrites the memorandum of understanding to accommodate.
But the temporary home for the team, KeyArena, is woefully undersized for NHL crowds at 11,000. The owners of the team would have large operational losses until Hansen’s arena project gets built in two to three years.
And Seattle is not the lone candidate for relocation. Quebec City has an arena under construction. When deputy commissioner Bill Daly was asked about the possibility of Quebec City in New York Thursday, he said, “I wouldn’t rule it out.”