Time is running out for Greg Jamison and friends.
The former CEO of the San Jose Sharks has until the end of today to come up with the necessary funds to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes from the NHL, or the lease agreement negotiated between the City of Glendale and Jamison’s ownership group will expire. While the lapse of the deal would not necessarily be the harbinger of doom for the Phoenix franchise, it would certainly create another wrinkle in this saga that may ultimately lead to the departure of the Coyotes.
The big problem is the hometown discount that Jamison & Co. received from Glendale to keep the Coyotes in Arizona. The group worked out a 20 year, $324 million lease with the city, but will have to renegotiate a new lease if today’s deadline is not met.
Essentially, Nick Cotsonika of Yahoo! Sports summed it up the best this morning on Twitter:
Bottom line in Phoenix: If the NHL can’t find an owner (with money) with a sweetheart arena deal on the table, how can it save the Coyotes?
— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) January 31, 2013
So what now?
Despite fervent denials from the NHL brass, the league is likely to expand by two teams in the next few years, possibly as soon as 2014-15 by some reports. As it is with these things, many cities have been pegged as potential landing spots for an NHL franchise, including the US cities of Seattle, WA, Kansas City, MO, Houston, TX and Las Vegas, NV, and the Canadian cities Quebec City, QC, Markham, ONT and Hamilton, ONT. Despite the long list, three have dominated the talk in recent months: Seattle, Quebec City and Markham.
Seattle has gained momentum after the NBA‘s Sacramento Kings were sold earlier this month to a Seattle-based group that is also in the process of building a new arena for the new club. With a new arena, the Seattle market looks even more appealing.
Quebec City has had the spotlight since the Winnipeg Jets returned to the city last season after the team was moved to Phoenix after the 1995-96 season. Many feel the fans will flood back to the team in Quebec just as they did in Winnipeg, and, again much like Winnipeg, there is a new arena being built for an NHL team in Quebec City.
So while Markham has not been ignored, they have been pushed out of the spotlight recently given the developments in Seattle and Quebec City, but this tumultuous Phoenix situation brings them right back to the front.
Earlier this week, Markham’s City Council narrowly voted to keep a financing structure for an NHL-caliber arena that includes over $160 million in public money in place. While there is plenty of work to be done to move forward and actually build the arena, it was a positive step forward in the process.
With that prospect still on the table, Markham becomes a viable option for an NHL franchise. Despite the raging popularity of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto area needs another team. Ever wonder how Leafs tickets are so expensive? It’s simple supply and demand. The Leafs would not suffer in the least, and it would create a natural rivalry that would be fueled by the city itself.
The proposed GTA Centre site in Markham is about 20 miles north of the Air Canada Center, giving the Leafs their downtown base all to themselves, and allowing the suburbs of Toronto greater access to a team.
But, despite all of these natural draws, the NHL has been hesitant to bring another team to the Southern Ontario region, especially south of Toronto (Hamilton) for fear that it negatively affects the Buffalo Sabres. They seem much more apt to expand in a city without an NHL team, which has given Seattle and Quebec the inside track.
But this Phoenix business changes all of that. If Jamison is not able to scramble and find the cash and a new lease agreement needs to be struck, the likelihood of the Coyotes staying in Glendale diminishes significantly. Jamison’s group won’t get the same deal again as his inability to get a deal in place with the favorable terms of the deal that expires today creates a lot of uncertainty for the city.
If this is not hashed out today, let the relocation rumors start anew in the coming weeks. Given the fact that both Seattle and a Markham-Greater Toronto team would both have to pay hefty fees – likely north of $100 million – to the Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively, the NHL would likely push for those cities to come in via expansion, giving a group a little more time to come up with that kind of money.
That means the Coyotes may find themselves in Quebec sooner rather than later, assuming no 11th-hour magic can be found.
However it shakes out, it will be interesting to see whether or not the people of Toronto get to have the same treatment in hockey that New York gets in the three other major sports.
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