The Arizona Coyotes won’t stay in the Phoenix region without a new stadium, according to a letter NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman sent to state lawmakers.
The team’s owner was less subtle: Without a new arena, the Coyotes won’t remain in Arizona at all.
While the league and team owners say they’re committed to keeping the Coyotes in the Phoenix area, remaining at Gila River Arena in Glendale is not an option, Bettman told Senate President Steve Yarbrough and House Speaker J.D. Mesnard. He asked the two leaders for the Legislature’s support of SB1149, which would provide the team’s owners with public financing to help construct a new stadium, preferably in downtown Phoenix or the East Valley.
Bettman argued that Gila River Arena is “not economically capable of supporting a successful NHL franchise,” an assertion he wrote is supported by failed efforts of different ownership groups and league officials who have spent the last 15 years trying to help the Coyotes succeed in Glendale.
“Our combined efforts all have yielded the same result – a consistent economic loss,” Bettman wrote. “The simple truth? The Arizona Coyotes must have a new arena location to succeed. The Coyotes cannot and will not remain in Glendale.”
In a separate statement, Coyotes majority owner Andrew Barroway didn’t mince words: Without a new arena, the team will leave Arizona entirely.
“While we cannot and will not stay in Glendale, we will continue to push our proposed public-private location in the Valley, or we reach a point where there is simply no longer a path forward in Arizona,” Barroway said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for Glendale declined to comment.
Both Bettman and Barroway touted SB1149, which is sponsored by Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, as a “win-win” for the team and Arizona taxpayers, arguing they would see the benefit of new revenue generated by the stadium in a location better suited to the team’s fan base, which the Coyotes insist is predominantly in the East Valley. The bill would strike a viable public-private partnership “which will secure the Coyotes’ future in Arizona while creating thousands of jobs and generating millions of dollars in new tax revenues for the state’s General Fund,” Barroway said.
But many lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats alike, have balked at the idea of providing taxpayer dollars to finance a new stadium while the City of Glendale remains in debt for constructing the arena the Coyotes now say is unfeasible. Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said he wasn’t surprised by the commissioner’s threatening tone, but he would be surprised if the tactic changed the mind of lawmakers in his chamber, a healthy majority of which oppose providing taxpayer dollars to build the Coyotes a new arena.
Bettman later told ESPN that his letter shouldn’t be “misconstrued” as a threat that the team is giving up on Arizona, but was meant to counter a lobbying effort by Glendale officials seeking to defeat SB1149.
“I believe the city of Glendale was lobbying, saying if the other municipalities — the senators from those municipalities — don’t approve it, then the team will have to stay in Glendale,” Bettman told ESPN. “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 team is moving other than out of Glendale. But short term they’re going to stay in Glendale while they’re pursuing the options.”