Winnipeg hockey fans might be ringing in 2011 in style, with renewed hopes of an NHL team returning to the city.
The league, according to the Globe and Mail, has issued an ultimatum to the city of Glendale, Ariz., where the Phoenix Coyotes call home: find a buyer for the team by Dec. 31 or we will sell it to someone waiting to purchase and move the club.
Citing sources, Canadian cable sports network TSN also reported Saturday that prospective buyer Ice Edge Holdings — a group of North American businessmen fronted by Daryl Jones and Anthony LeBlanc — talked with Glendale city officials on Friday.
However, a source said Ice Edge isn't interested in further discussions without exclusivity that would make the group the only contender to keep the team in Arizona.
The city of Glendale on Friday reached an agreement with the NHL to cover operating costs up to $25 million US to keep the Coyotes in Jobing.com Arena for the 2010-11 season.
It's believed there is a clause in the agreement allowing the league to seek outside interest after Dec. 31.
The agreement, obtained by the Globe and Mail, also states Glendale can only keep the Coyotes after Dec. 31 if it finds a local buyer and the NHL has "not yet entered into an agreement to sell the team in a non-Glendale sale and the city identifies a prospective bona fide purchaser."
The NHL purchased the team out of bankruptcy last September with the intention of finding a buyer who would keep the franchise in Arizona.
The league has said repeatedly that if no local buyer can be found, it would look to find a buyer elsewhere.
Reinsdorf backed off
Chicago sports mogul Jerry Reinsdorf, who owns the NBA Bulls and Major League Baseball's White Sox, backed away from discussions to purchase the Coyotes from the NHL last month because the city would not meet his demand for more than $45 million a year in subsidies.
A group fronted by Toronto billionaire David Thomson and Mark Chipman — the CEO of True North Sports and Entertainment, who own and operate the MTS Centre in Winnipeg — is the only other buyer the NHL has spoken to about the Coyotes.
A source told the Globe and Mail the offer referred to in the Glendale-NHL agreement is from Thomson and Chipman.
To cover its $25-million commitment, the city of Glendale plans to create a taxing district, called a community-facilities district, to charge landowners near Jobing.com Arena and Westgate City Center, the mall adjacent to the arena.
Problem is, telling taxpayers to cover the Coyotes' losses might not stand up legally or politically as it's illegal in Arizona for municipal governments to subsidize private businesses.
If the necessary funds are not raised, the city is on the hook to make up the difference, according to the agreement.
Keeping a close eye on any developments is the Goldwater Institute, a taxpayers' watchdog organization in Phoenix that plans to sue the city over the deal once it is placed in writing.
The agreement recognizes the Goldwater Institute, stating if any part of the deal is deemed illegal, it can be severed with the remainder of the deal staying intact. The NHL and the city of Glendale also could negotiate a modification to the deal.
Sale to close by end of June
On May 11, city manager Ed Beasley and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Glendale council that the sale of the Coyotes is expected to close by the end of June.
The Winnipeg Jets were moved to Arizona in 1996, leaving behind a dedicated fan base that has long lamented the loss of their beloved NHL team.
Renamed the Coyotes, the franchise has failed to turn a profit in the desert. The Phoenix Business Journal says the Coyotes have lost as much as $50 million a year since moving to Arizona.
Winnipeg hockey fans were hopeful the team would return and, according to media reports, the NHL had already created a tentative alternative schedule that includes a team based in Winnipeg.
In a recent interview with Hockey Night in Canada, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman rejected claims that an official offer had been made.
"What I will confirm is that over the years we've had an interest from Winnipeg, and I think that's great," said Bettman.
"But we're not going to address that interest by taking away a franchise from another club. If we can fix it in Phoenix, great — which is what we've been trying to do for the last year.
"If we can't fix it, then we'll look at our options," he said. "And obviously, Winnipeg is one of them."