“The NHL is terribly disappointed with the results of the Tempe referendum,” the NHL’s press office said in a two-sentence statement. Even Arizona himself wrote that he was only “very disappointed” and, apparently, the fate of the entire Coyotes franchise was decided the day before yesterday. Arizona lost the biggest pick in team history, and now its very existence is in jeopardy.
When Winnipeg became Phoenix in 1996, it was considered a smart move. The capital of Arizona was already one of the largest and fastest growing cities in the United States, and the first few seasons in Phoenix were really good. Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk, Rick Tocquet played for the Coyotes, Shane Dawn and Daniel Brier began their stellar careers, and Nikolai Khabibulin became the Bulin Wall in Arizona. The team consistently made the playoffs, but lost five times in the first round in six years.
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However, the housing problem spoiled Phoenix. The team moved to a new city to play at the Suns basketball stadium, but it turned out that due to the design features of the stadium intended for basketball, visibility was limited in many places (a little later this story was published). repeated with the Islanders in the Brooklyn arena”). In addition, the rent was very high and dragged the team into losses.
Phoenix Suns Arena
Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
After that, for 20 years, the Coyotes played in the town-owned arena in Glendale, and almost all of that time was spent in litigation between the city council and the team owners, which changed a lot during this time. More than once or twice, the team came close to being evicted, but the cooperation continued. However, amid talks about rent debt in 2021, the city council did not extend cooperation with the Coyotes, and even then the team could change its place of residence. But Arizona had a plan that seemed flawless:
While playing in the small but new arena at the University of Arizona with a capacity of 4600 spectators; after that, move on to the ultra-modern arena in Tempe (10 miles from Phoenix).
The Tempe city council voted unanimously in favor of the construction, but decided to put the issue to a referendum. City residents had to vote on a package of amendments allowing construction of the arena and its associated mini-district, which would include high-end housing, hotels, restaurants and shops. According to the internal calculations of the initiators of the construction, the amendments should have been supported by 56-57% of the voters; however, exactly that many rejected them. Turnout in the referendum was only 33%: about 16 thousand voters voted “against”, 12 thousand – “for”. It is quite possible that these four thousand people decided the fate of all of Arizona.
Both the Arizona owner and personally Gary Bettman, who attended Tempe city council meetings and spoke at election events, campaigned for the new arena. The “against” campaign was led by a motley coalition under the brand name “Tempe First.” The arguments against it were clear: the city would inevitably have to raise taxes to build roads and infrastructure for the new stadium, even though the club’s owner, Alex Meruelo, promised that it would all be paid for with private funds. Also, absolutely fantastic horror stories were mentioned in the campaign; for example, it was argued that the new arena would increase the risks of human trafficking.
However, the “against” agitators failed to mention that the city would still have to spend taxpayer money for future development of the area. It was planned to build the stadium and related structures on the site where the landfill is now located, and this is not an exaggeration. A year ago, a fire broke out in this place, and the fragrance of burning compost spread everywhere. The activists do not say what to do with this, they do not provide any projects to replace the sand and write in the final declaration about the city, that it should be more “sustainable and responsive”. However, in the final result there is a landfill, which now will not go anywhere for several years.
New Arizona sand project
At the same time, the funding of opponents of the project was much higher than that of supporters. Arizona only spent $250,000 on the campaign, which is only a third of the minimum contract for a player. His opponents, in turn, spent (by various estimates) from $750,000 to $2 million. Where did that money come from? From local unions, which in the United States have long become incredibly influential organizations, while barely participating in building a new arena.
Now this vote is a blow to Gary Bettman. The NHL commissioner has been criticized all these years for his incredible loyalty to Arizona, which was once owned by the league itself. The Coyotes were looking for owners, to be allowed to play in a small 5000, which was not yet allowed by modern NHL teams, but the 115th attempt to bring life to a team that has only brought losses in recent years. failure. We can say that teams should not be created in non-hockey regions, only that other southern teams did not have even a third of the problems that have surrounded Arizona for its entire existence – this can be seen in the conference finalists of this season.
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One thing is clear: Leaving the team in Arizona is a dead end. Right now, the Coyotes have gained a lot of assets, but they won’t put together a playoff-qualifying team of their own. A losing club won’t be able to get a maximum payout, and when the club’s young leaders ask for a significant raise, they’ll simply be traded, because Arizona can’t afford gigantic contracts. This process has already been seen in Ottawa.
Now it’s all going to be decided in the near future: Although the Coyotes aren’t going anywhere next season, it’s hard to imagine the league pulling their ears off even now. Clayton Keller, the club’s top scorer, posts sad emojis on social media, it seems he already understands everything.