Thursday, December 16, 2010

Back to the drawing board for Winnipeg's NHL hopes...

Wednesday, 12.15.2010
By Jerry Brown - Correspondent

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It took two years and more possible ownership scenarios than you can shake a hockey stick at, but the Phoenix Coyotes are staying right where they are -- in Glendale.

After a meeting that ran more than four hours, the Glendale City Council on Tuesday voted 5-2 to approve a $197 million deal that will keep the team, which has been owned by the NHL for more than a year, in town. As a result, Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer took a huge step toward becoming the fourth owner of the franchise since it moved to the desert from Winnipeg in 1996.

"I'm happy the council went this way and the hard work starts now," said Hulsizer, who added that he expects to assume control of the team within weeks, not months. "We have a long process, but in the end I think we're going build a great product."

Hulsizer and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the council in a jam-packed chamber filled with more than 300 Coyotes fans who came to urge Mayor Elaine Scruggs and the council to keep the team in town – and some Glendale citizens who were opposed to more city investment. Hulsizer received a standing ovation from most of the crowd after he spoke.

Bettman said the NHL is relieved that the process of finding a new owner is coming to an end with the approval of the lease.

"We're very pleased that this difficult process that we have been engaged in the last two years is finally coming to a conclusion, and one that we were seeking from the outset," said Bettman, who added that Glendale has also been promised an All-Star Game within three years -- with the likely scenario being the 2013 game.

"As always, we seek to make relocation an absolute last resort," Bettman said. "We believe that the Coyotes and NHL hockey can be successful in Glendale, and the circumstance we went through a year and a half ago (when former owner Jerry Moyes filed for bankruptcy) weren't indicative of whether we were in a position to see things done right."

The city is betting that Hulsizer, who will use $100 million of the approved money to help purchase the team from the NHL for a reported $170 million, has the business ability and hockey background to give the team footing, on and off the ice. In return, the city claims ownership of parking around Arena, which was free in the past for Coyotes games and other arena events, but will now be looked to a revenue stream that, along with ticket surcharges, will allow the city to recapture its investment.

Hulsizer said those who felt that Glendale was giving a rich man more money "don't understand economics very well."

"I'm certainly risking money and putting money up and the city is buying parking from us, which is revenue we could use but we're not going to get. We're going have to make do without it, like most other hockey teams. This is not a team that has been profitable, that's why it's in bankruptcy. We need to do a lot of work and we need to make a lot of investment to make this thing successful and we expect to do that."

Hulsizer said he doesn't expect to make money "for a long time," and then was asked how long.

"Certainly not in the next few years," he said. "But I will tell you that 10 or 15 years from now, I think, along with the economy, things are going to come back. This is a big bet by us on Arizona and specifically this area, but I think we're going to come out of this."


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