Here is the part of the blog where I might give some context for and background on the Arizona Coyotes’ long history of financial problems and turbulent ownership, a history that goes back as long as the franchise has existed. But I’m not going to run through it this time, mostly because I can’t keep up with it all. There’s too much of it. I follow hockey both for fun and for work and I’m still unable to keep straight how many times the team has missed payroll, or hosted a toxic work environment, or tried and failed to get a new arena, or filed for bankruptcy, or been sold on the cheap, or had to get bailed out by the NHL. It’s a rich tapestry, but at this point, if we’re being honest, it’s all kind of running together. The thing you need to know is that the Coyotes are the unhealthiest major sports franchise on the continent.
Also, they’re getting kicked out of their building at the end of the season and don’t know where they’ll be playing next year.
Also also, they may be kicked out a lot sooner than that.
Katie Strang at The Athletic reported Wednesday night that the city of Glendale has threatened to lock the Coyotes out of the arena on Dec. 20 over unpaid tax bills. The lockout would quite literally mean not allowing team employees—including players—to enter the building. Which might make playing hockey a little tough.
On Dec. 3, the Arizona Department of Revenue filed a tax lien notice in Maricopa County against IceArizona Hockey LLC, the company that owns the Coyotes, for more than $1.3 million in unpaid state and city taxes. The City of Glendale, which has been locked in a lengthy dispute with the Coyotes over delinquent bills, has already notified ASM, the Gila River Arena management company, and Coyotes team president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez of the cancellation of the Coyotes’ business license.
This is serious stuff. The Coyotes needed a response and came up with one that was fast, public, and profoundly unserious:
Nobody believes this explanation, and why should they? I’m pretty certain the city and state aren’t just letting the team know about the bills now, for the first time; I suspect they followed up at least once with the Coyotes before going to court and the media. And you don’t just fail to pay $1.3 million in regularly scheduled payments to multiple entities because Frank in accounting forgot to push a button. Ah yeah I could swear I Venmoed you but I guess it didn’t go through, weird. Hogwash!
More to the point, the Coyotes have a nasty habit of not paying what they owe when they owe it. This summer Glendale announced the termination of the year-to-year arena lease at the end of the season, citing several instances of outstanding and delinquent balances (fancy money-guy talk for where’s the money, you owe us the money). If it makes local lawmakers feel better, the Coyotes also have trouble paying everyone else. There are lawsuits claiming they’ve stiffed vendors and contractors, and even players have gotten late bonus checks. The team blamed these on failures of “process,” so maybe it’s not just Frank in accounting’s fault.
So what to make of this latest mess? In the short-term, it’s probably nothing to worry about. The league isn’t going to let a team get kicked out of its arena mid-season, even if that means cutting the checks itself. In the longer term, I just do not know how any of this is ever supposed to work.
For whatever reasons—there are lots of them, but also if you wanted to distill them into the single, lazy, obvious reason, you would not be entirely wrong about it—hockey in Arizona has just never been made to work, and it’s not clear under what circumstances it might work, and it’s even less clear that those hypothetical circumstances are at all capable of being brought into existence. Which stinks, frankly. No fans deserve what Coyotes fans have gone through and what will ultimately befall them. No workers deserve to be treated like the Coyotes treat theirs. And the entire league is better for having outposts in population centers, in ways that may not pay off for decades but are very real. But whether or not the Coyotes can survive as a franchise is, increasingly, not feeling like it’s the right question at all. Instead of if it’s about when, and just how much slack the NHL will afford this regional debacle before cutting bait.