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Does the Coyotes' survival hinge on an arena deal battle?

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No, but that's what Rick Westhead from TSN would like you to think. I have grabbed a copy of his latest article and will analyze what will surely be treated as gospel up north in the latest of the Coyotes saga.

Pictured: What Canadians think Gila River looks like during games
Pictured: What Canadians think Gila River looks like during games
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Rick Westhead started down this rabbit hole earlier this month, when he tweeted this egregious "fact":

The inevitable backlash from the Coyotes community was summarily dismissed and this 'well researched' piece is the culmination of Rick's investigation. Let's start from the beginning shall we:

Article collected 5/15 at approximately 9am Arizona Time.

Senior elected city officials in Glendale, Arizona, say they are exploring whether legal grounds exist for them to void an arena management contract with the Arizona Coyotes, an agreement that calls for taxpayers to contribute $15 million per year over 15 years to the flagging NHL club. When the city council in Glendale voted to give the owners of the Coyotes $225 million (all U.S. dollars) over 15 years, the money was supposed to be used by the team to manage the 12-year-old Gila River Arena, where the Coyotes play their home games. The deal helped narrow the losses of a club that sports investment bankers say is a perpetual money loser, bleeding some $50 million or more per year. But nearly two years after council approved the controversial pact, city officials claim the money that cash-strapped Glendale is paying to the team's owner IceArizona is instead going directly to Fortress Investment Group, the New York-based asset manager which financed holding company IceArizona's purchase of the Coyotes.

Before I could even publish this piece, the hammer was dropped by the Coyotes. But for fun, let's continue anyways shall we?

A report says IceArizona under-reported its losses. Glendale Vice Mayor Ian Hughes [spelling left as is] says using taxpayer dollars to pay down the team's debt rather than for direct arena management expenses amounts to a breach of contract. Hughes says he hopes in coming weeks to rally support on Glendale's seven-member city council to direct the city's attorney to explore whether the Phoenix suburb can get out of its contract with the Coyotes, a potential legal battle that could finally herald the Coyotes' exodus from the desert.

First off, the Vice Mayor's name is "Ian Hugh". Secondly, the Fortress financing was known about pretty early on in the deal and the city approved sending the payments to Fortress.

"The taxpayer got the short end of the stick," Hughes said in an interview. "If they call this an investment, you'd think there would be a possible return. I'm hard pressed to see the benefits to the city of Glendale."

I guess the $5.8 million the Coyotes paid back to the city in fees and surcharges collected doesn't count. and the $1 million shortfall was probably due to the fact that the deal wasn't finalized until August, almost a month and a half after the start of Glendale's fiscal year, and they couldn't start booking concert dates until then either.

The Difference In Numbers

The city does receive a portion of revenue sharing from the arena's operations. Last year, the city received about $6.5 million from IceArizona, which means the deal cost the city about $8.5 million.

Wait, didn't you just quote Vice Mayor Hugh saying "you'd think there would be a possible return"? I'm not sure how money works in Canada but $6.5 million is definitely a "return". Also FYI the budgeted intake from the arena deal was to be $6.7 Mill (see page 6).

"I asked our finance director...if the hockey team packed up and left the next day, what would be the impact, and the answer was an $8.5 million windfall profit for us," Hughes said. "We increased sales tax to the citizens to cover this (arena management deal). We have needs in law enforcement and our fire department that we can't fund. We had to put off purchasing of new pumpers for the fire department. We have three libraries in Glendale and all of their hours have been cut way back."

Wait, What? An $8.5 million windfall? Does the city get to magically stop paying down the debt on the arena? Guess it doesn't need power or water either. Also, is this the same "financial director" that didn't read the agreement between the city and the Coyotes?

Hughes also said three new city councillors were voted in in December and views on council about the Coyotes deal may have changed. When Glendale's city council approved the arena management deal on July 3, 2013, the vote was 4-3. But since then, two councillors who voted in favour of the contract have left council, while Hughes and Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers, two of the three who voted against the contract, remain.

This is some amazing speculation, and frankly I'm surprised you didn't even dredge up the news that Councilmember Sherwood is facing a recall election, so good for you.

Hughes wants to find a way to narrow the city's hockey losses, noting Glendale also pays $8 million a year to service the debt on the Gila River Arena. That's because consultant Tony Tavares, the onetime president of both the Dallas Stars and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, has delivered to Glendale city auditors a report that alleges IceArizona under-reported its losses last season during the first year of the 15-year arena management contract, sources tell TSN.

$8M debt payment + $2M Est Utilities + $500K Essential staff = $10.5 Million per year w/ no events

vs...

$8M debt payment + $15M arena management - $6.5M in fees - $650k Rent = $15.85 Million with hockey and events

I'm pretty sure the delta between $10.5M and $15.85M, isn't $8.5 Million.

While IceArizona said it lost $34.8 million during the 2013-14 NHL season, Tavares's confidential report claims the holding company lost far more than that. TSN couldn't confirm the exact amount Tavares claims IceArizona lost. The report suggests tactics the city might take to challenge the Coyotes in their bookkeeping. TSN spoke to a source with first-hand knowledge of Tavares' report who said any such misreporting could arguably be used by lawyers to claim that the team has breached the terms of its arena management contract. The Tavares report isn't expected to be disclosed to taxpayers because of a confidentiality agreement between the city and team. It also notes that there are so-called "cure periods" where the team can, within a limited period of time, correct any financial misreporting, the source told TSN.

YAY! anonymous sources!

Tavares declined to comment, citing a non-disclosure agreement with Glendale. When contacted by TSN, Coyotes part owner Anthony Leblanc wrote in an emailed statement, "The Arizona Coyotes are in full compliance in regards to our agreements with the city of Glendale, and if there are any issues or questions that the city or its officials may have, they certainly should raise them directly with the team as opposed to doing so through the media."

Any report submitted to the City is likely subject to the 'Freedom of Information Act', and very well could be made public.

The Coyotes' Saga Continues

The Coyotes have routinely been a hair's breadth from leaving the Arizona desert. In 2011, after then-Coyotes' owner Jerry Moyes put the NHL club into bankruptcy protection and tried to sell it to Research in Motion co-founder Jim Balsillie, who planned to move the team to Hamilton, the NHL seized control of the Coyotes and threatened to move the team unless taxpayers agreed to give the NHL $50 million to cover the team's losses. Two years later, after Glendale council approved the $15 million-per-year arena management contract, Canadians Anthony LeBlanc and George Gosbee bought the Coyotes from the NHL. Then last December, in a move that allowed the Coyotes to take advantage of the NHL's low-cost line of credit, LeBlanc and Gosbee announced American hedge fund manager Andrew Barroway had obtained majority interest in the Coyotes.

It was 2009, but who's counting?

Yet ever since, Glendale Mayor Weiers and Vice Mayor Hughes tell TSN that neither have been able to meet with Barroway in person in Arizona.

So? He's the owner, not the CEO. The CEO is who would traditionally handle all business transactions at the approval of the board, of whom Andrew Barroway is the Chairman.

Both Weiers and Hughes want to review the naming-rights contract the Coyotes have signed for the Gila River Arena because, they say, 20 per cent of the revenue from that contract is supposed to go to the city. In 2006, the team signed a 10-year, $30 million naming rights deal for the arena with Jobing.com, a local employment website. But last August, the Coyotes canceled that agreement and signed a nine-year deal for naming rights with Gila River Casinos. Financial terms have not been released, Glendale officials say, even though Hughes and others says taxpayers have a direct financial interest. "We're giving them $15 million a year, you'd think they'd be a better partner," said Gary Sherwood, a Glendale city councillor who voted for the arena management deal. "You'd think I should get a meeting out of (Barroway) and I can't...haven't been able to since at least the (Christmas) holidays."

So they should talk to Anthony LeBlanc, both the CEO AND the person who signed the deal. Also, why not call Gila River and ask them if there some sort of out clause in four years, or if the deal just continues on with the city if the team relocates? But what do I know? You're the reporter, and I'm just a lowly unpaid blogger.

Hide And Seek?

Weiers and Hughes also say they want Barroway to prove that he's actually the majority owner of the Coyotes. But there's been a snag, as Weiers said Barroway refuses to come to Glendale for a meeting. Andrew Barroway The City of Glendale has not met Andrew Barroway. "All Barroway says he'll give us is 90 minutes, and he says it has to be in New York," Weiers said in an interview. "I'm not going to New York for 90 minutes. I mean, the team is here in Glendale. What's the problem?"

Again, why? The CEO handles business transactions for the organization. If I was a private owner of a business, and I had appointed an employee to handle said business, I would have that person talk with the appropriate parties.

Both LeBlanc and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed Barroway is the team's majority owner. "Andy owns 51 per cent of the Coyotes currently," Daly wrote in an email. "He has not missed or failed to make a single payment. He hasn't threatened not to make a payment." But Leblanc denies that Barroway has refused to meet with city officials. "Mr. Barroway in fact had a meeting set up with the mayor and council and they cancelled due to going into an emergency executive session to fire their city manager," Leblanc wrote. "He has since had a call with the mayor and invited him to come to New York City. Lastly, he has met two council members at Coyotes games in Glendale."

What is Barroway going to say that the deputy commissioner hasn't already said?

Moving Up vs. Moving Out

Councilor Jamie Aldama said he wants to see the Coyotes stay in Glendale, and said they've had a positive economic impact on the city's Westgate Entertainment district. "It's at what cost do we want to keep them?" Aldama said. "We're paying for them to manage an event building. That's all we're worried about. We don't tell them where to put their money or what to do with it. But if there's reason to believe there's a breach in contract, well, I represent the taxpayers and if they're not doing what they're supposed to be doing, then we need to act on that."

I don't believe there is any clause in the agreement the city signed that dictates where or how the funds are to be used other than the team has to keep the lights on and ice a NHL team.

Aldama said he, like many locals, worry that the Coyotes may well move within three years. That's because under the terms of the 15-year agreement, the team can opt out after five years if its collective losses eclipse $50 million. That threshold will easily be reached in this, the second year of the agreement, a source familiar with the team's finances told TSN. The source said the Coyotes might have underreported losses because they don't want the team's customer base to assume that the team triggering the out clause is a foregone conclusion.

What benefit does the team honestly have for under-reporting losses? Even if they were losing a hundred million per year (they're not) it wouldn't change the agreement. Besides, most of the parties in this Ice-Renaissance-Edge hybrid have been steeped in the Coyotes fiasco since 2010, they know how much the team has lost historically, and what could be done to fix it.

Nevertheless, sports investment bankers and four senior NHL sources, including one NHL team owner, told TSN that there's a widespread belief among NHL executives that the Coyotes are doomed in Glendale. At one time, former Coyotes owner Steve Elman pursued the construction of a new arena in Scottsdale, a suburb west of the greater metropolitan area, and that arena might have been a difference maker since Scottsdale has the fourth highest per capita income in the state ($49,158). Glendale, which has per capita income of $19,124 (60th in the state), is on the east side of Phoenix, at least an hour's drive away during rush hour from Scottsdale, Sherwood said.

The same NHL executives that worked so hard to keep the team in Glendale? They've had about a half-dozen opportunities to move the team, but yet the team remains in Glendale...

To be sure, the Coyotes have a vocal and loyal, if small, fan base which points to participation in amateur hockey in Arizona climbing, and that some local rep hockey teams have won elite-level tournaments, beating Canadian competition. Prospect Auston Mathews, who is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft, grew up in Scottsdale. Arizona State University, meantime, is starting up a Division I hockey program modeled on Penn State University's successful model. It adds up, some locals say, to a sign that the Coyotes may finally be gaining a toehold. "I do appreciate your comments...about the incredible growth of the sport in Arizona, such as the ASU move to D1, along with the 13 Arizona players drafted at the recent USHL draft, and of course the tremendous success (top-rated 2016 NHL draft prospect) Auston Matthews has experienced recently," Leblanc wrote. " While the Coyotes are not the sole reason for these developments, we certainly are proud of the leadership role we play regarding the growth of the sport in Arizona and the Southwest."

Of course the Coyotes aren't the sole reason, their idea of "youth outreach" before the bankruptcy was using this guy. But since then new regime has been supporting and devolving programs like The Little Howlers, Desert Hockey Development, and even hiring a team to visit local elementary schools and spread hockey to kids:

A Very Small Following

Even so, the Coyotes face many financial obstacles. Fan attendance is among the lowest in the NHL. One sports investment banker familiar with the Phoenix market said the club generates roughly $400,000 in ticket sales per game. According to statistics posted this year on the city's website, the Coyotes managed three sellouts - down from seven a year ago.

Love all these anonymous sources, who have never seen the Coyotes books, but can just make up numbers on a whim.

The Coyotes also face a struggle to coax interest from local TV advertisers. The team negotiates a deal with local regional sports network Fox Sports Arizona on its own. If it had been able to negotiate alongside baseball's Diamondbacks or basketball's Phoenix Suns, the Coyotes might have had leverage to get a better local TV deal. The MLB and NBA teams, however, are both locked into long-term deals.

The deal negotiated is contingent on the Suns (NBA) advertising, since they play during the same time period. So the same commercials are played during both broadcasts; ergo their deals while negotiated separately, they are deeply intertwined.

Local Coyotes broadcasts this season drew a 0.51 rating, meaning roughly half of one per cent of televisions in the market - the 12th biggest in the U.S. - tuned in to the team's games, down 32 per cent from the previous season, according to an analysis of Nielsen Media data conducted by the SportsBusiness Journal, a trade publication.

BREAKING: Team with 2nd worst record in the NHL has a down year in TV viewership; Film at 11.

WHO'S WATCHING IN THE DESERT?

VIEWERSHIP NUMBERS - LOCAL BROADCASTS

Arizona Diamondbacks (2015 season)

Demographic

Nielsen Rating

Males 18 - 34

1.59

Males 25 - 54

2.35

Adults 25 - 54

1.68

Phoenix Suns (2014-15 season)

Demographic

Nielsen Rating

Males 18 - 34

1.05

Males 25 - 54

1.41

Adults 25 - 54

1.02

Arizona Coyotes (2014-15 season)

Demographic

Nielsen Rating

Males 18 - 34

0.39

Males 21 - 34

0.48

Males 25 - 54

0.31

Adults 25 - 54

0.39

Note: A Nielsen Rating is the percentage of people in a demographic who are watching. Therefore, a 1.59 rating among males 18-34 means 1.59 per cent of viewers aged 18-34 watched the broadcast.

If You Build It (Twice)...

There's another problem for the Coyotes: there are two modern arenas in Glendale. The Coyotes play in the Gila River Arena while the NBA's Phoenix Suns play in the U.S. Airways Center. The arenas compete with one another for concerts and other events and "cut one another to the bone," according to a sports banking source. Even though the Coyotes have a new deal with Comcast Spectacor to attract more concerts, the competition from the U.S. Airways Center drives down the amount the team can charge. The Coyotes protracted financial woes raise a hard to answer question: why is the team still playing in Phoenix?

Wow when did we build a second arena in Glendale? No wonder the city is in such dire financial straights... and I guess landing Aerosmith, Sam Smith, Taylor Swift, Madonna, and Iggy Azalea over the next 6 months will do nothing for the city.

One NHL owner said the most likely outcome over the next few years will see the team move. Rumoured landing spots are Seattle, Portland, Quebec City, Southern Ontario and Las Vegas. But Seattle does not have an arena, and there's little appetite among the local population to pay for a new rink. "This can't work with private money," the NHL team owner said. "The team acquisition cost and arena finance bill would combine to be over $800 million. It doesn't work in Seattle with those numbers." The NHL team owner said Portland faces similar hurdles because billionaire Paul Allen, who owns the NBA's Trailblazers and controls the arena there, "doesn't care about hockey." As for Quebec City or Southern Ontario: "Nope. Both of those cities make the balanced conference problem worse," said the NHL team owner, who declined to speak publicly for fear of being fined by the league. "I think it leaves us with Las Vegas as our best alternative. I could see them moving the Coyotes there when the new arena is done."

So with all the evidence laid-out on how AZ is such a "bad hockey market", this unnamed NHL owner now wants to move the team to the even smaller, untested market of Las Vegas, good grief.