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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Glendale needs help to keep Coyotes

Taxpayers deserve team that pays its own way

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman wanted to take the temperature of the Winnipeg ticket-buying public last spring before he gave his final blessing to the city getting an NHL franchise and it was supported as a good idea.

Winnipeggers were asked to put their cards on the table and end the suspense over whether they would support the NHL. No muss, no fuss, we got our answer in a couple days and everyone ended up happy.

Doing the same in Phoenix right now would seem smart except Bettman knows what the answer would be and likely doesn't want to hear it. But the people of Glendale, Ariz., who are paying for this ride, should not only want the answer, they should demand it.

They're going to be on the hook financially for the Coyotes for years. And don't think it can't get worse than it is right now because it could. They need answers and assurance, just like Bettman did in Winnipeg, before they go any further.

Winnipeg famously sold out its building for four years in less than a week. The same thing almost certainly would not happen in Phoenix. But once and for all, Phoenix needs to decide if it wants the Coyotes.

So far all the heavy lifting has been done by the people of Glendale, but they aren't the Glendale Coyotes. They're the Phoenix Coyotes and it's time the rest of the Valley of the Sun stepped up to do its part. Or not. Either way, an answer is needed.

Extend

Bettman and potential new owner Greg Jamison are not going to save Glendale from the jackpot they're in. To the contrary, they want to extend it for another 20 years.

Glendale taxpayers have already built the Coyotes a new rink and covered their losses for the past two seasons to the tune of US$50 million.

Jamison wants to negotiate a 20-year lease with a bloated arena management fee that would, in effect, have the suburb continue to prop up the Coyotes.

Why put it all on Glendale? Sure, they signed up for this when they won the arena sweepstakes but the idea was to draw on the entire Phoenix area to make the Coyotes a viable NHL franchise. That hasn't happened as the empty seats so blatantly demonstrate night after night during the regular season.

Blame it on bad management. Blame it on bad arena location. Blame it on anything you want. None of that changes the reality that has the City of Glendale and its municipal government are clinging to the Coyotes despite the obvious financial hardship brought upon its citizens.

Property tax increases of 30 per cent and city layoffs are expected in Glendale this year but that hasn't stopped Jamison from asking for $306 million over 20 years with $92 million to come due in the first five years of the lease.

Glendale doesn't have enough money to pay its bills right now with a $35-million budget shortfall.

If this deal goes through, Bettman gets to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix and Jamison gets to own a hockey team and the people of Glendale get to pay for it.

If the Coyotes are going to stay in Arizona, someone has to help. A show of interest like Winnipeg's Drive to 13,000 from a year ago would let us all know if that help is there.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 9, 2012 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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