Just when you thought things couldn't get anymore laughable for the Arizona Coyotes and the NHL at this point, this happened...
The City of Glendale is threatening to lock the Arizona Coyotes out of Gila River Arena due to delinquent tax bills and unpaid arena charges, The Athletic has learned.
On Dec. 3, the Arizona Department of Revenue filed a tax lien notice in Maricopa County against IceArizona Hockey LLC, the company that owns the Coyotes, for more than $1.3 million in unpaid state and city taxes. The City of Glendale, which has been locked in a lengthy dispute with the Coyotes over delinquent bills, has already notified ASM, the Gila River Arena management company, and Coyotes team president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez of the cancellation of the Coyotes’ business license.
The City of Glendale is owed approximately $250,000 in unpaid city taxes, according to a letter from City Manager Kevin Phelps to Gutierrez, and the remaining amount is owed to the state. The state tax lien notice, obtained via a public records request, asserts that the Coyotes owe taxes dating back to June 2020.
The Coyotes, according to the notice sent to ASM and to the team, will have until 5 p.m. MST on Dec. 20 to pay the outstanding arena invoices from the 2020-21 season, as well as the outstanding tax bill. If they do not settle up the remaining debt by that time, the City of Glendale has instructed ASM to deny team employees access to the arena and the offices within the arena used as administrative space. Arena vendors would also be locked out.
Arizona's first home game following the Dec. 20 deadline is Dec. 23 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Coyotes, which have the right to an informal hearing on the matter should they file a written request within 10 days, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Phelps, the City of Glendale manager, said he called NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Wednesday to inform him about the situation. A league spokesperson did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
Back in August, the City of Glendale informed the team it would opt out of its joint lease agreement for Gila River Arena, essentially forcing the Coyotes to vacate the arena by June 30 of next year, making the 2021-22 season the club’s final one at the facility.
That termination notice followed several months of negotiations between the city and the team on the terms of a lease extension and potential renovations to the arena. Public records revealed that the impasse followed multiple notices of outstanding and delinquent balances owed by the Coyotes as part of the lease agreement.
While some observers felt the city’s stance was a leverage play to bring the Coyotes back to the negotiating table, the city has stood firm on cutting ties with the team.
“We’ve reached that point of no return,” Phelps told The Athletic in August. “There’s no wavering.”
Like, are you shitting me? How the fuck does this happen in a major North American sports league? The owner bought the team in 2019 and it's been nothing but headaches on the business-side since (not to speak of the hockey ops).
Meruelo’s acquisition of the Coyotes was supposed to portend a new era for the team. Instead, people within the organization and across the NHL are now wondering if the league erred in approving his purchase.
“If I was talking to a future employer, I’d say it’s been a learning experience,” said one employee. “If I was being frank with you, I’d say it’s a shitshow.”
And now, an actual NHL team is being threatened to get locked out of their 'home' arena because the owners didn't take care of what every shitty college apartment renter manages to do every month? Late last night, the team released a statement. And it was straight out of the Jake Blues playbook.
All of this, of course, begs the question: what kind of vetting, if any, did the NHL actually do here before signing off on the sale?
This is a guy that the NBA didn't want to get in bed with because of money concerns. The team has been late paying bonuses to players (almost unheard of in pro sports). In addition to (allegedly) stiffing creditors and forcing them into protracted, costly legal action just to get paid, the owner also quite unsuccessfully tried to sue a Vegas website for daring to exercise freedom of the press with a valid, sourced story. In his suit, he demanded that his joint be given prior approval of anything the site was going to write about it. The judge rightfully threw it out quicker than last week's scrod.
Like Gretchen in MEAN GIRLS with 'fetch', the NHL keeps trying to make the Coyotes happen. I don't know if the league was blinded by optics or if it's just being too proud and stubborn to finally take the L on the failed Arizona experiment. But the players on the roster and the staff they work with deserve much, much better than what's on tap for their immediate future. This is the best hockey league on the planet not the goddamn Federal League.
Even if the team does pay up, it still doesn't have a place to play home games on the 2022-23 schedule nor plans for a future home anytime soon. And whatever non-relocation fallback option the Coyotes end up with next season will be yet another black eye for the league and it's perennial pet project.
I don't what it's gonna take for the NHL to finally cut bait here. But the prospect of one of its franchises playing its next few seasons in a 56-year-old barn with a leaky roof and zero luxury boxes should make it shudder and realize just how bush league it all is.