Andrew Barroway bought out the Arizona Coyotes’ minority owners last week, solidifying his standing as the sixth majority owner in the franchise’s 20 seasons in the Valley. By contrast, the Wirtz family has owned the Chicago Blackhawks for 63 years while Philip Anschutz and Edward P. Roski have owned the Los Angeles Kings for every year of the Coyotes’ existence.
If a franchise doesn’t have ownership stability, a franchise doesn’t have stability.
There is hope in the team’s fan base that having one voice representing the team will help strike an arena deal and put the Coyotes on the path toward stability, but a report by Forbes casts doubt on Barroway’s ability to move this franchise forward, given his significant debt.
League sources insist Barroway, who bought a controlling share two and a half years ago, is not pursuing minority investors for the time being. Given how leveraged the Forbes report suggests he is, it remains to be seen if that stance holds.
That’s the future, however, and today we decided to delve into the Coyotes’ fascinating ownership past. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and remember both the tenures of the men who owned this team, and the stories of the men who tried to buy it. If you want to refresh your drink, now would be a good time. This will take a while.
Richard Burke (1996-2001) and Steven Gluckstern (1996-98): In a hopeful December of 1995, Phoenix businessmen Gluckstern and Burke, along with Valley icon and Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo and a local group of investors, bought the Winnipeg Jets and moved them to Phoenix for the 1996–97 season, giving the Valley three major pro sports teams along with Arizona State University athletics (the Diamondbacks arrived two years later).
Fun fact: In a name-the-team contest, Scorpions finished second to Coyotes, while a most unfortunate possibility, Freeze, was discarded.
The new ownership group made a splash by acquiring center Jeremy Roenick from the Blackhawks for Alex Zhamnov, Craig Mills and a first-round draft choice (Ty Jones), but they dealt Teemu Selanne before they arrived in the Valley, robbing Phoenix fans of a dynamic star. The Coyotes made the playoffs their first four seasons in the Valley, but they failed to escape the first round, falling in memorable Game 7s to Anaheim (1997) and St. Louis (1999).
Steve Ellman (2001-2006): In 2001, Burke sold the team to Ellman, a developer, and Wayne Gretzky came on board as a part-owner while running hockey operations. While there are other low points in this franchise’s two-decade tenure, lifetime Coyotes fans will almost unanimously agree this was the lowest. Gretzky constructed a hockey operations staff that became known locally as FOG (Friends of Gretzky). GM Mike Barnett, Gretzky’s former agent, earned a reputation for signing over-the-hill veterans such as Brett Hull and Claude Lemieux. His trades were nearly always losses, and the team’s drafts were disasters.
Two years into Ellman’s ownership, the team moved out of poorly configured America West Arena and into then-Glendale Arena, where Shane Doan was named the captain after the team jettisoned stars Keith Tkachuk and Roenick. The team lost a first-round playoff series to San Jose in Ellman’s first year of ownership. They did not qualify for the postseason again in his tenure.
Jerry Moyes (2006-08): Moyes was a minority partner in Ellman’s group, but Ellman sold controlling interest in the Coyotes and the lease to Jobing.com Arena to Moyes in September 2006. Moyes was a decent, blue-collar guy who never wanted any part of a hockey team.
Faced with mounting losses, he tried to sell the team, but the league stepped in and a bitter battle ensued. Moyes resented the league’s intrusion, while the league insisted that Moyes had no right to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, per his agreement. He did anyway, in May 2009. Moyes tried to sell the team to a group that wanted to move it to Hamilton, Ontario, but a judge rejected that bid and Moyes eventually sold the Coyotes to the NHL for $140 million in November 2009.
The NHL (2009-2013): Local media members jokingly refer to this as the golden age of Coyotes ownership. The Coyotes made the playoffs three straight seasons under league stewardship. They posted the franchise’s three highest point totals in 2009-10 (107), 2010-11 (99) and 2011-12 (97). The Coyotes also won the franchise’s only division title and posted their only two playoffs series wins, advancing to the Western Conference Final in 2012.
Of course, the finances of the team were no joking matter. GM Don Maloney operated on a shoestring budget with a skeleton crew of scouts. Somehow, he and coach Dave Tippett worked magic with savvy trades and the signing of a cast of players that lacked star power but played consistently strong defense. They got elite goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov and Mike Smith.
Jim Balsillie (2009): Balsillie, the co-CEO of Research In Motion Ltd. (the maker of the BlackBerry smartphone), headed a group that tried to buy the team from Moyes, with reports of the price ranging from $212.5 million to $242.5 million. Balsillie had previously tried to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006 and the Nashville Predators in 2007. When Judge Redfield T. Baum rejected Balsille’s bid to buy the Coyotes, he prevented Balsillie from making another bid for the team. One of the key issues in the case was a proposed relocation fee to be negotiated with the NHL, and rumored to be as much as $100 million.
Balsillie argued that any failure to allow the team to move to Hamilton was a violation of antitrust law, but Baum ruled otherwise. “This court can not find that antitrust law as applicable non-bankruptcy law permits the sale free and clear of the relocation rights of the NHL,” he said. “It is not an antitrust violation for professional sports leagues to have terms and conditions on relocations of its members.”
Jerry Reinsdorf (2009): While Moyes was trying to sell the team to Balsillie, the league was trying to broker a deal with Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox. In July 2009, Reinsdorf and his group were approved for ownership of the Coyotes for $148 million, but Reinsdorf dropped the bid, only to resurface in 2010 and 2011 as a potential buyer. Even as Renaissance Sports and Entertainment closed in on its bid to buy the Coyotes in 2013, Reinsdorf was rumored to be waiting in the wings for a cut-rate price if that group failed.
Matthew Hulsizer (2010-2011): The Chicago businessman (co-founder and chief executive officer of PEAK6 Investments) told ESPN in October 2010 that he had an agreement in principle for a new Jobing.com Arena lease with the City of Glendale. He also hoped to close a deal with the NHL to purchase the team for $170 million, along with a group of investors known as IceEdge, who would later form part of IceArizona.
By June 2011, Hulsizer had walked away from the deal citing irreconcilable differences with Glendale, and opposition from the local watchdog Goldwater Institute. But there were also questions about Hulsizer’s available funding. Privately, coaches and players were relieved. By several accounts, Hulsizer embarrassed himself at a team dinner on the road and never recovered in the eyes of the team.
Greg Jamison (2012-2013): Jamison’s bid to buy the Coyotes with an old fashioned financing structure fell through when he missed a Jan. 31, 2013 deadline to assemble the required money. Jamison was also working with IceEdge. His failure to secure funding stung the team, particularly captain Shane Doan. By all accounts, including mine, Jamison was a good man with good intentions, and a hockey background from his time as the Sharks president and CEO.
“To the Arizona’s sports and hockey fans, and the City of Glendale, we appreciate your patience and diligence,” Jamison said after his failed bid. “We wish everything was completed today as we worked extremely hard on the deal. However, we have taken significant steps to keep the Coyotes in Glendale for the long term. I’ve seen firsthand the wonderful support Arizona hockey fans have provided the Coyotes, and we will continue our efforts to keep the NHL in Arizona.”
Darin Pastor (2013): Pastor’s bizarre and out-of-the-blue bid to buy the team came to an abrupt end when the league rejected his offer. “The terms of his proposal were inconsistent with what we had previously indicated were the minimum prerequisites of a serious and realistic bid,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote via email. While Daly declined to offer more details, a source close to the situation said one key sticking point was that Pastor’s bid financed the deal over a 15-year period while the league expected the entire deal to be completed within a three-to-five-year window, with the expected price still listed between $150 million and $170 million.
IceArizona (née Renaissance Sports and Entertainment, 2013-2017): After failed attempts with previous groups, eventual president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc brought AltaCorp Capital CEO George Gosbee and a large group of investors in to close the deal on the purchase of the Coyotes. The final hurdle was cleared when the Glendale City Council approved a 15-year, $225 million arena lease and management agreement in July 2013.
Or so they thought.
Less than two years later, Glendale voided the agreement. IceArizona vowed to leave Glendale, and was still searching for a new home when Barroway completed his buyout. The Coyotes never made the playoffs in IceArizona’s four-year tenure, and a lot of promises came up empty. But the group must be credited with saving the franchise and keeping it in Arizona. Now the baton has passed to Barroway with the hope that he will do the same.
- Barroway’s plans for Arizona may not be clear for at least a year
- Return of Shane Doan would impact Arizona’s roster decisions