GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Coyotes are staying in Glendale. There is no simpler or sweeter way to report Tuesday’s late-night events to the legions of fans who stuck with this cash-strapped, long-in-limbo franchise.
After a public and sometimes contentious four-plus-hour session in front of hundreds of fans and foes, the Glendale City Council voted 4-3 in favor of an amended arena-lease deal with prospective ownership group Renaissance Sports and Entertainment that will pay RSE $15 million per year over 15 years in exchange for a number of revenue streams that the new owners believe will cover all of Glendale’s costs.
The council also amended the deal just before the vote to remove the city’s request for a five-year out clause — a clause that would have killed the deal since neither RSE’s lenders nor the NHL would have accepted it. In exchange, RSE guaranteed to cover Glendale’s losses in excess of $6 million if the ownership group opts to exercise its own out clause and relocate the team after five years. It also added industry leader Global Spectrum as a partner to manage the arena, a move that could mean added revenue for the city with more events booked at Jobing.com Arena.
Unless there is a citizens’ referendum to challenge this deal (previous attempts have not generated enough petition signatures) or more moves from the watchdog Goldwater Institute (which successfully derailed a previous ownership bid by Matthew Hulsizer but has been a non-factor since due to deals being structured to avoid legal challenges), this four-year-old saga has finally come to a close for a host of people who have been battling to keep the team here, not the least of whom is NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
“It’s not about my emotions,” Bettman said when asked for his assessment. “This is really about the fact that uncertainty hanging over this franchise has finally been lifted, and that’s great for everybody in the Valley, in particular anybody who is a fan of the franchise or cares about the franchise.”
Council members Gary Sherwood, Sam Chavira, Manny Martinez and Vice Mayor Yvonne Knaack voted in favor of the deal, while council members Ian Hugh, Norma Alvarez and Mayor Jerry Weiers voted against it, citing continued concerns with the amount of risk and lack of guaranteed revenue for Glendale in the deal.
“The deal tonight that was struck certainly was better than it was yesterday at this time,” Weiers said. “Is this the best deal we could have ever got? I don’t know. But now it’s time to put that behind us. It’s water under the bridge. I can’t change what’s happened. All I can do now is make this the very best I can for Glendale and for the Coyotes.”
On Friday, the deal appeared to be dead after Glendale requested the five-year out clause even thought its attorneys had been informed three weeks prior that such a request would be a non-starter. Distraught and disgusted after so many unexpected twists, Anthony LeBlanc, the most public of RSE’s principal investors, was ready to pull the plug after years of pursuing this club with various ownership groups.
“Over the last week, there were a couple moments where we thought we were at the cliff,” LeBlanc said. “The reality is you stick through it because you believe in what you’re trying to accomplish, and we believed in the potential of NHL hockey here.”
It should be noted that this deal never would have happened without the efforts of Sherwood, who has long been a proponent of keeping the Coyotes. Sherwood organized a task force several weeks ago to examine, in depth, what life would look like with and without the Coyotes in Glendale. He came away convinced that the former was the better option, then set to work convincing other members of the council, notably Martinez and Chavira.
“There were so many ups and downs on this that you were never quite sure you could sit back and relax, thinking you had a handle on it,” Sherwood said. “There were a lot of talks over meals and a lot of working the phones. It’s amazing how many people are up at 1:30, 2 and 2:30 in the morning where you’d text, ‘Call me in the morning,’ and they’d text back, ‘Call me now.’
RSE must finalize its purchase of the team by Aug. 5 to complete the deal, but that is simply a formality since RSE’s financing is already secured and has been approved by the NHL. The sale of the team must also be approved by the NHL’s Board of Governors, but that is also considered a formality.
With the vote finally out of the way, the franchise — which will officially become the Arizona Coyotes at some point as part of the deal — can turn its attention to the business and on-ice concerns of the team. That was welcome news for the staff members in attendance, including general manager Don Maloney and team president and chief operating officer Mike Nealy, who have been through the wringer with past ownership bids.
“We’ve been in these chambers a few times and a couple late nights like this,” Nealy said, laughing. “I think this one’s going to stick. Now it’s time to prove it out. We need to get out there and tell the community that we’re stable. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
LeBlanc and RSE’s principals have already had preliminary talks with Nealy and Maloney about what they can add in terms of staff, players, expenses and payroll. But LeBlanc said Tuesday that he will sit down with Maloney on Wednesday for further talks and then meet with Nealy.
“Everybody who’s followed this saga has said decide something or just shoot us,” Maloney said. “Fortunately, we got the result we needed to stay in a great place and a great hockey town.”