Coyote Ugly: The Latest Public Pro Sports Handout

Another chapter was written last night in the grubby relationship between professional sports teams and Arizona, with the vote by Glendale City Council to approve a deal, costing almost $200 million, that will keep the "financially struggling" Phoenix Coyotes at the Jobing.com Arena for the foreseeable future. Firstly, the team will loan wannabe owner Matthew Hulsizer a hundred million dollars to fund about 60% of his bid to buy the franchise. This, in itself, is a questionable use of public revenue, especially given the following report of the cutbacks recently announced by Glendale to deal with their budget deficit.

10,000 city jobs would be eliminated, over 6,000 of them through layoffs. Thousands of teachers would lose their jobs, as well as sanitation workers, security guards, corrections officers and staff at the Administration for Children’s Services. As a result of the layoffs, basic services would decline. Potholes - 9,000 of them - would not be filled due to cuts in staff and funding to the Department of Transportation. (A potential windfall for mechanics across the city.) Library hours would decrease. Twenty fire companies would close over night, this after the mayor and the City Council reached an agreement to restore funding for the Fire Department earlier this year.

So, the city won't raise funds to keep fire-stations open, but they'll do it for a hockey team? The Arizona Republic reports, "Glendale's deal with Hulsizer brings the city's sports-related debt with interest to more than $1 billion," presumably also including University of Phoenix Stadium and the lovely facility bought for the Dodgers and White Sox at Camelback Ranch. Can't blame the Coyotes for wanting to get their snouts in the trough too, to the tune of what's now about four thousand dollars for every man, woman and child living in the city. Maybe some of the laid-off teachers can get work at the arena, selling popcorn.

But this is the bit that jaw-drops me. "In addition, the city will pay Hulsizer $97 million in annual installments ranging from $10 million to $20 million over the next 5 ½ years to manage events at the arena, including games and concerts... Hulsizer, in exchange, agreed to maintain the rent and fees other team owners paid to Glendale each year to play at the arena, as much as $6 million per year" in exchange for "at least some arena-related revenue." Well, isn't that generous of him? In effect, the city will be paying the owner $12 million per season to run the team and arena. Remember, this is a team that played there rent-free for seven months last year.

And since then, things have got much worse. At that time, in the 2008-09 season, the Coyotes averaged crowds of 14,875 per game. This year, that number is just 10,282 - more than 30% down on the period when they couldn't pay the rent, and just 58.5% of the NHL median. Even the Diamondbacks, in almost the worst year in franchise history, were at 85.8% of MLB median attendance. Does anyone think this will be the last time the team's owners - whoever they may be - will come calling with their begging bowl, and threats to relocate?

Apparently, "It was determined that the economic impact of the Coyotes to the City of Glendale was approximately $511 million." This is quite startling, given the value of the entire franchise according to Forbes' last report, was only $142 million. Quite how this half-billion figure was reached, I've not found out. I suspect it relies partly on the myth that if the Coyotes became extinct, the entertainment dollars spent on them would evaporate. While that might be true for the Cubs' spring training in Mesa, here, it's more likely they'd be spent on other entertainment options. Possibly even ones capable of surviving without handouts.

This is almost standard practice in Arizona: see the appalling, $100 million fiasco which was CityNorth, for example. And the Diamondbacks can't claim the moral high-ground, given the political and financial shenanigans Jerry G pulled to get Bank One Ballpark built on the taxpayer dime, without even a ballot. But the baseball team haven't been reliant for their survival since on donations from the city and special arrangements. The new spring training facility opening next year was built without a single cent of funding from any local city or state authority. Which is the way it should be: privately-owned sports teams should not be publicly-funded.

I do feel sympathy for the Coyotes fans, but having an NHL hockey team is not a right. Hell, while I'd love it if they opened a jai-alai fronton in Phoenix, I'm not holding my breath on that, or demanding hundreds of millions in funding from local authorities. Pro sports need to be economically self-sustaining, and Josh Lobdell of the Inquisitr summed it up perfectly: "If the Coyotes cannot operate in Arizona without this kind of government subsidization, they should not stay in Arizona. It is really that simple. The citizens should not have to keep handing out corporate welfare for a team that doesn’t seem to be able to make any profit."

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