Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

His team, other people's money

It's sad that Hulsizer's sweet deal for Coyotes is good business

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Friday night's news that the City of Glendale is prepared to front $100 million of the $170-million price tag on the Phoenix Coyotes, and then backstop franchise losses to the tune of $97 million, was the talk of Winnipeg this weekend.

One has to wonder what they're saying in Glendale.

Super Tuesday

DECEMBER 14

-- City of Glendale council will vote on a proposed lease that features two key clauses.

"The proposed agreement will continue to allow Glendale to receive all the revenue it currently does to pay its obligations on the arena. This proposal provides for the city to purchase parking rights from the team for $100 million. The city will manage the parking at Jobing.com Arena with this new revenue stream going to pay the purchase rights. The new revenue would include parking fees, advertising and naming rights. Parking revenue is generated year-round at every event at the arena, not just Coyotes games."

"Glendale owns the arena and it is Glendale's responsibility to maintain the facility. Under the proposed agreement, Glendale will contract with a management firm to operate the arena with projected expenses of approximately $17 million per year, which is currently offset by having the Coyotes as the arena's main tenant."

DECEMBER 31

-- In the event City of Glendale council does not approve the lease negotiated by city bureaucrats and Matthew Hulsizer, this date could become important. The NHL has informed Glendale should a sale not be completed by Dec. 31, the league is free to investigate other sale opportunities, including a relocation bid from True North Sports and Entertainment.

 

-- Gary Lawless

One also has to wonder why NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is willing to enter into such a proposition.

Not after hearing Bettman's words last spring prior to the Stanley Cup final.

"You know our view on franchise relocation: We try to avoid it," Bettman said in Chicago on May 29. "And frankly, if we're going to move a franchise, there are a couple of places in Canada that I'd like to give my attention first, because when Winnipeg and Quebec lost their franchises -- remember, I always talk about three things for franchises: market, owner and building.

"Both of those teams were moved because two of the criteria went away. There was no building and there was no owner. Nobody wanted to own a team there anymore. To the extent that those markets are in a position to deal with those issues, I'd like to try and fix something that I wish might not have happened in the first place, not unlike what we did in Minnesota."

So the Coyotes score 1.5-out of 3 on Mr. Bettman's franchise scale. Not so good.

Glendale has a building but the fan base ranks dead last in the NHL. Now they kind of have an owner but not one willing to put up his own money for the full purchase price of the Coyotes.

No disrespect to Matthew Hulsizer, but this story is well-known.

The NHL's asking price for the Coyotes is $170 million. Hulsizer couldn't or wouldn't pay the whole freight and when the NHL refused to come off its number, the Chicago businessman put it back in the lap of the City of Glendale.

Good business, many will say, and you can count us among that group. But it's not a ringing endorsement or firm commitment to the future of NHL hockey in Phoenix.

The City of Glendale is paying for the majority of the sale of the Coyotes. Is that ownership? By some definition, yes.

But not in the same form as the offer from True North Sports and Entertainment.

True North has offered to put up the full purchase price and has asked no quarter for future losses.

That's ownership. "Here's the money for the team, and we'll be here down the line with our chequebook should rainy days arrive."

The aforementioned chequebook, it should be noted, is among the most solid in the world. The combination of the Thomson and Chipman families is what ownership of a major professional sports franchise should look like and what the NHL should aspire to.

Sour grapes? You bet. Winnipeg is ready and able and has done everything asked of it to regain an NHL franchise. But this is big-boy Monopoly and whining doesn't reach the ears of the NHL. Nor should it.

The NHL should make its decisions based on the best arrangement for the league. Gary Bettman wouldn't argue this and that's what makes this deal so befuddling.

Why in the name of Howie Morenz is the NHL willing to turn its back on a sure ownership group in Winnipeg for a "we're not even half in," arrangement in Arizona?

To protect the fan base of the Coyotes, you say. Baloney. They need to protect themselves and they haven't. End of discussion.

I'm sure we'll hear the league's spin on this deal sometime down the line and for the good people of Glendale we hope it works out and has a happy ending.

But the reality is this is a bad deal for Glendale and the NHL. We get Glendale's willingness to enter into this arrangement. They built a rink for $180 million and want the building to be used while they pay for it.

Losing the Coyotes would hurt. Maybe not as much as this deal will, which calls to mind the phrase "throwing good money after bad." But we understand why Glendale is motivated to try and keep the hockey team. Winnipeg went through a similar dance 15 years ago and the longing for NHL hockey hasn't dissipated.

The NHL gets an owner in Matthew Hulsizer and all reports suggest he'll be a solid operator. Hockey people have met him and been left with a favourable impression. He's young, smart and loves hockey, all good things in an owner.

But here's the thing -- he's not really the owner. Hulsizer will sign the cheques, but it's not his money. It's the City of Glendale's.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 13, 2010 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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