by PuckStopsHere on 10/17/09 at 12:43 PM ET
After a summer spent in bankruptcy and litigation, the Phoenix Coyotes have returned to Phoenix for the 2009/10 season. They are back because courts found that nobody is suitable to buy the team, so they will continue to be propped up by the NHL until something changes. In the summer a lot of damage was done to the fanbase. It is clear that the Phoenix Coyotes will not remain in Phoenix in the long-term. Season ticket holders were unwilling to renew their tickets over the summer because they didn’t know it there would be a team for this season, thus killing the season ticket base. The Phoenix Coyotes are back, but their fans are not.
The official attendance for Thursday’s game against the St Louis Blues was 6899, with reports that only about 5000 people were present. This makes the official attendance the NHL has seen in several years and makes it look quite probable that the average attendance in Phoenix this season will be the lowest number the league has seen for a team in decades.
The problem is not the Phoenix Coyotes play. They are 4-2 and in first place in the Pacific Division. They won 3-2 in overtime in front of a largely empty stadium against St Louis. The problem is that it is a foregone conclusion that the Phoenix Coyotes will be leaving town as soon as they have an acceptable new situation to move into. There is no point getting behind a team that is leaving soon.
The summer in limbo has broken the Phoenix market. It is probably broken irreparably. At this point, the Coyotes would need a new owner who is dedicated to keeping the team in Phoenix and a continuation of their good start for several months to merely grow ticket sales back to the levels that existed last year when the team went into bankruptcy. Making money in Phoenix appears impossible.
What is left of the Phoenix Coyotes fanbase is an NHL embarrassment. It is embarrassing that any market could be destroyed so badly, but with the team still stranded in the market. In a league where the NHL and the NHLPA are allegedly partners, this is something the NHLPA should not stand for. Revenues (and thus salaries) are being held down by one team stuck in a dead market. Meanwhile Hamilton looks like a relatively strong market sitting vacant. Significant money has been spent by the NHL to keep things that way. Their “partners” the players should see this as being a horrid move. There is no gain for the players. The potential gain would be an expansion fee from a new Hamilton franchise (if that ever happens) which doesn’t count a revenue to the players. In the meantime one of the NHL teams is stuck in a market that is in such bad shape, it will set modern day records for low attendance this year.
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