Glendale votes to keep Coyotes
City council in Glendale, Ariz., has voted unanimously to guarantee the NHL up to $25 million US to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in Jobing.com Arena for the 2010-11 season.
Seven city councillors voted 7-0 in favour of the motion at a meeting Tuesday night.
The vote comes in response to the NHL's request that the Phoenix suburb ensure that costs would be covered to maintain and operate the team until an owner is found.
City manager Ed Beasley and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the council that the sale of the Coyotes is expected to close by the end of June. In such a case, they said, the payments would not be needed.
"From our perspective, this is nothing more than an insurance policy," said Daly. "Trying to keep the Coyotes where we believe they belong, which is in the city of Glendale, for the long term."
Beasley told the councillors that a fee to the NHL would not be a tax on the residents of Glendale.
The city would pay a fee to the NHL to operate and maintain the team, until there is an agreement with new owners. The money for that fee would likely come from the establishment of a community facilities district (CFD) — nearby businesses that benefit from the team being in the area.
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. According to the Phoenix Business Journal, the Coyotes have lost between $20 million to $50 million US annually.
Winnipeg hockey fans were hopeful the team would return under a bid for the franchise from Toronto-based billionaire David Thomson.
According to media reports, the NHL had already created a tentative alternative schedule that includes a team based in Winnipeg.
Fans tune into council meeting
Nearly 1,000 of the Winnipeg faithful tuned in to the Glendale council meeting via a live feed on the Winnipeg Free Press website.
Many Winnipeg fans saw the meeting as a key to their hopes of seeing the NHL return to Canada.
"There is more people here than season ticket holders in Phoenix," quipped one chat participant.
"Glendale do the right thing and vote this down," wrote another.
Many local Phoenix fans also showed their support for the franchise during an open question period at the council meeting, while some residents shared their concerns about where their tax dollars are going.
Phil Lieberman, a councillor in Glendale for 19 years, initially said he would oppose the motion to keep the Coyotes in Glendale.
But a young boy named Logan softened his heart. The boy attended the council meeting draped in an oversized Coyotes jersey, a matching cap slipped over his ears.
Lieberman asked Logan to stand, inadvertently giving Winnipeg fans watching online a glimpse of the joy many feel they had been robbed of in 1996.
"Logan came to me and asked if I would vote for this resolution tonight," Lieberman said. "I can't turn him down."
When the votes were cast, Lieberman voted in favour of the motion.
"Damn you Logan," a dejected Winnipeg supporter wrote on the chat.
During the council meeting, Beasley said that both Ice Edge Holdings and a group headed by Chicago sports mogul Jerry Reinsdorf are still talking about buying the Phoenix Coyotes.
Before the Tuesday's meeting, media reports said that Ice Edge and Reinsdorf's group had recently pulled out of negations to take over the franchise.
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.
Attempts by Research in Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie to bring the Coyotes to Hamilton were quashed by the NHL last year.
With one billionaire out of the picture, the group led by Thomson gave Canadian hockey fans hope that an NHL team would land north of the border after all.
And while the NHL isn't ruling the possibility out, league commissioner Gary Bettman told Hockey Night in Canada that the priority is to keep NHL franchises where they are.
"I don't want to raise anybody's expectations, because the thing we've been consistent about … is we try not to move franchises if we can avoid it," he said, while adding that Winnipeg would be considered an option if the team eventually did have to move.