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Amid Growing Issues, Will the Coyotes Relocate From Arizona?

Amid arena issues and mounting financial losses, we break down the likelihood of the NHL moving the Coyotes out of Arizona.

Since relocating from Winnipeg to Arizona in 1996, the Coyotes’ tenure in the Grand Canyon State has been anything but stable.

The NHL was forced to take over operations of the Coyotes in 2009 when then-owner Jerry Moyes turned it over directly to the league after declaring bankruptcy. The league controlled the team until 2013 when it was able to find new ownership willing to keep the franchise in Arizona.

Arizona has had a difficult working relationship with the city of Glendale, where it plays its games out of Gila River Arena. The city built the arena at a cost of $183 million and pays about $13 million a year toward the debt. 

With increasing financial losses, underwhelming play on the ice and mounting issues in the front office, will the NHL cut the cord and finally move the Coyotes out of Arizona?

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Coyotes Continue to Lose Money at a Rapid Clip

Infographic courtesy of Statista

The above infographic from Statista shows just how much of a never-ending issue the Coyotes’ inability to turn a profit has been. After losing $4.5 million in both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, the ’Yotes lost a combined $70 million in the following five years.

It’s not all doom and gloom for the Coyotes, however. New owner Alex Meruelo, who bought the team in 2019, is a billionaire and has a history of taking over failing businesses and turning their financial fortunes around.

Meruelo has his work cut out for him in Arizona for a variety of reasons.

The big question going forward is will Meruelo concede that the Coyotes will never work in the desert and look to move them elsewhere, or will he look to keep them in Arizona? Based on the above chart, it’s hard to see the tides turning in the right direction any time soon for the Coyotes.

COVID-19 Pandemic Has Hit Coyotes Hard

The COVID-19 pandemic’s financial impact on the sports world is massive, but established and financially healthy franchises will be able to absorb the short-term losses and move forward when things fully get back to normal.

For teams like the Coyotes, it’s made underlying pre-existing issues significantly worse. In September 2020, the Arizona Republic reported that the Coyotes were behind on a rent payment that was due at the end of June.

The late amount of $500,000 was due on June 30. A late payment from the club meant the arena management company ASM Global hadn’t yet paid a share of that money to the city of Glendale. The company told Glendale officials it would make the payment on time, and there’s no evidence to suggest it wasn’t paid.

In late August, the team laid off and furloughed an unspecified number of employees. That came months after it furloughed half its staff in April.

Like every other team in the NHL, the Coyotes had their season cut short in March after the mass spread of COVID-19 in North America. Arizona was able to play in two series of the NHL’s extended playoffs that began in a bubble in Canada on August 1, but the franchise lost out on large amounts of revenue that would have come from in-person tickets plus concession, merchandise and sponsorship sales.

Is Relocation an Option for the Coyotes?

The NHL has done everything in its power to keep the Coyotes in Arizona, as commissioner Gary Bettman has spent the last 15 years refusing to admit that the league’s experiment in the desert has been a failure.

With Seattle getting rights for an expansion team that will begin play next season, the option of relocating the Coyotes to Washington is off the table. Other cities that have been rumored to be interested in the Coyotes are Quebec City, Houston, Portland and Kansas City.

In a post-pandemic world, moving a professional sports franchise will not be easy. The Coyotes are in a year-to-year lease with Gila River Arena, but it’s no secret the team would prefer to play elsewhere in the Phoenix area because the majority of its fans live outside of Glendale.

Given the amount of money outstanding on the arena, building another stadium on credit in the city seems like a pipe dream.

If a long-term agreement with Gila River Arena can’t be reached and the option of building a new rink doesn’t come to fruition, it’s very likely the Coyotes could be looking for a new home in the not-too-distant future, which would effectively end the most tumultuous NHL relocation saga in league history.