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The Arizona Coyotes have never been a franchise known for stability. Ever since the Coyotes arrived in the Arizona desert in 1996, they’ve struggled with a variety of issues, many of them related to team operations. Financials have been a constant concern from day one. Despite this dysfunction, they’ve managed to stay afloat and even won a division title in 2011-2012.

While there’s been plenty of dark moments over the Coyotes’ tenure in the desert, perhaps none have been more embarrassing than what has occurred over the last few months. After a messy breakup with the city of Glendale, the Coyotes were left without a home and the solution that has been agreed upon will see the team play at a local university campus.

Yes, the Arizona Coyotes are going to be playing at Arizona State University at a stadium that can fit 5,000 fans. That’s like the Canucks moving permanently to play at Thunderbird Arena on the UBC campus, which it should be noted has 5,004 permanent seats, surpassing the capacity of the new home of the Coyotes.

The NHL already plays a little brother role in the North American sports world, trailing the MLB, NFL, and NBA in every metric imaginable. Hockey is a great product but the fact remains that it doesn’t sell in every American market and trying to force it results in embarrassing situations like this one that only attack the legitimacy of the league.

How could you argue that the NHL produces a product of the same quality as those other leagues when one of the franchises is playing on a college campus?

The Coyotes’ situation has gone from bad to worse and it’s time that the NHL steps in and takes serious action before it turns catastrophic.

The Coyotes’ history of financial woes

The Coyotes and money problems are old friends.  One of the biggest scandals since the team moved to Arizona happened in 2008 when it was uncovered that the league was subsidizing the team’s massive financial losses. The team was losing tens of millions of dollars a year and then-owner Jerry Moyes sold the Coyotes to the NHL after long proceedings in bankruptcy court.

However, that was not before Moyes attempted to sell the team to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie who made his fortune through being an early employee at Research in Motion, the company that launched the Blackberry. Balsillie had plans to bail the team out of its debts and move it to Hamilton, Ontario. This plan might have helped the Coyotes avoid the mess they’re currently stuck in today, though it wasn’t meant to be as eventually, the NHL took over control of the franchise.

After many more years of financial unrest, a controlling stake was eventually acquired by Alex Meruelo. The purchase was supposed to represent a new era for the Coyotes, one that would hopefully be defined by a stability that had eluded the franchise for years.

However, that wasn’t the case.

Problems continue in the desert

When Katie Strang at The Athletic posted her investigative piece on the Coyotes in February of 2021, she revealed that Meruelo’s arrival was the change in fortune that everyone was hoping for, in fact, it was a turn for the worse in some ways. Players not receiving payments on time, employees describing the workplace as toxic, and at least one alleged case of sexual harassment were among the bombshells reported.

Fast forward to the present day and the Coyotes are back in the spotlight as they prepare to play in a stadium designed for college kids. The current plan is for the stadium to host the NHL team until at least the 2023-24 season with an option for the next season.

“At the end of the day, if there has to be a temporary accommodation — knowing that a new building is coming, this obviously can’t be indefinite — I think they can create a terrific experience for people in a more intimate setting,” commissioner Gary Bettman commented recently. “It wouldn’t be the first time that we were in a small, temporary facility pending the construction of a new arena.”

Two full seasons with the potential for a third is a long time for the Coyotes to be playing in that rink. Saying that the rink might provide an intimate setting for games is a terrible excuse. This is an NHL hockey game, not a fancy restaurant. Fans want the noise and intense atmosphere, not an intimate setting.

Potential solutions

Move the team.

Putting teams in untraditional markets has had mixed results. Some have worked out great while others have struggled. The Coyotes is one that’s struggled since day one and it’s time for the NHL to cut its losses. Unfortunately, everyone doesn’t see it that way.

“This is a good market,” said Bettman. “This has been a franchise that has had its challenges, some of which has been beyond its control, and as long as there’s commitment and forthcoming for a new building, that it’s going to be worth sticking with it.”

Bettman seems intent on keeping his pet project alive in the desert. However, if things continue on this path it’s only a matter of time before the Coyotes need to escape the heat with Quebec City, Hamilton, and many more cities waiting with arms wide open.

 

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