UPDATE: Coyotes chalk up unpaid bill/arena issue to ‘human error’
UPDATE DEC 9: The Coyotes say they have made all the appropriate payments and are current on all their bills.
Later on Wednesday, the Coyotes released a statement about the arena situation.
They cited “human error” in explaining the unpaid bills, and promised that by “tomorrow (Thursday) morning, the Arizona Coyotes [will be] current on all our bills.”
“We have already launched an investigation to determine how this could have happened and initial indications are that it appears to be the result of an unfortunate human error. Regardless, we deeply regret the inconvenience this has caused. We will make sure that by tomorrow (Thursday) morning, the Arizona Coyotes are current on all of our bills and owe no state or local taxed whatsoever. And we will take immediate steps to ensure that nothing like this can every possibly happen again.”
On Sportsnet, Elliotte Friedman provided more insight, and fuel to the notion that the stories of the Coyotes arena dramas tend to have more chapters.
“I’ve been told there’s two separate issues here,” Friedman said, via Sportsnet. “The first is that particular ($1.3 million) bill. But also there is a concern about what happens if the Coyotes pay that bill, will they guarantee that future tax monies that are owed until the end of the season? That they are concerned about the possibilities that the Coyotes pay this bill then don’t pay in the future and they have to chase them again. So I think there is a possibility the Coyotes could be asked to pay this and future money before they are allowed to go back into the building.”
Here’s the good news: at the moment, the focus isn’t on where the Arizona Coyotes might play next (2022-23) season. Unfortunately, the bad news washes that away; the Coyotes have even more immediate concerns about playing at Gila River Arena.
The Athletic’s Katie Strang reports that the City of Glendale is threatening to lock the Coyotes out of Gila River Arena due to “more than $1.3 million in unpaid state and city taxes.”
PHNX Sports’ Craig Morgan ranks among those who back up Strang’s report.
Glendale threatens to lock Coyotes out of arena due to bills
Alarmingly, Strang reports that Glendale gave the Coyotes until the afternoon of Dec. 20 (less than two weeks) to pay outstanding arena invoices and taxes. If that Dec. 20 deadline passes without some resolution, Glendale may not allow the Coyotes to access Gila River Arena.
Earlier on Wednesday, Glendale city manager Kevin Phelps explained more of the situation to Craig Morgan.
“I think it is likely that for us to move forward, we’re going to need assurances that they’re not going to just rack up a huge bill and then walk out the door in June, owing the city a lot of money,” Phelps said.
Phelps told Morgan that he called NHL commissioner Gary Bettman about the Coyotes arena situation. Morgan reports that Bettman thanked Phelps, and said “this isn’t very good news.”
Again, the Coyotes’ future, arena-wise, already looked tenuous beyond 2021-22. Now it looks like more might need to be done to stop the bleeding.
New details, but not exactly an unfamiliar problem
For longtime NHL (and especially Coyotes) fans, arena drama is old hat. These issues predate Pro Hockey Talk’s founding in early 2010. Memorably, BlackBerry mogul Jim Balsillie failed in a bid to buy (and move) the Coyotes ending in 2009. Despite all of these headaches, the NHL’s helped the Arizona (formerly Phoenix) Coyotes to persist. The league even “owned” the team for a time.
That said, the era under Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez presented its own wrinkles, and the feeling grows that at least the Glendale era is fleeting. Back in February, Strang published eye-opening details about the team’s issues (sub required), from trouble paying signing bonuses to rumblings about a toxic working atmosphere.
It’s a mess, and a bigger one than usual for a team that’s mostly been mired in on and off-the-ice struggles. As far as the actual hockey product goes, the Coyotes are in full-on tank mode right now, slogging along with a 5-18-2 record. (For whatever it’s worth, they’re at least making some respectable gestures toward a rebuild.)
The Coyotes play their next three games at home (Dec. 10, 11, and 15th). After a three-game road trip which runs through that Dec. 20 deadline, their next would-be home game is scheduled for Dec. 23 against the Lightning. Will the Coyotes be able to settle this matter with Glendale to make sure they can play at Gila River Arena then, and through the rest of this season?
After all these years, it’s dangerous to assume much, beyond a mess.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.