Ownership saga just latest twist for Coyotes

A crowd of 15,425 hockey fans watches the Phoenix Coyotes host the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday night at Jobing.Com Arena in Glendale. - RODNEY HAAS/Miner

A crowd of 15,425 hockey fans watches the Phoenix Coyotes host the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday night at Jobing.Com Arena in Glendale. - RODNEY HAAS/Miner

GLENDALE - Ever since the Phoenix Coyotes moved from Winnipeg, the team hasn't had a fair shake in the Valley of the Sun.

First came the arena - America West Arena (or U.S. Airways Center now) was built with one sport and one team in mind: Basketball and the Phoenix Suns.

The arena wasn't built for hockey and had many obstructed views, but the Coyotes called it home from 1996-2003 and at the same time put together some playoff teams.

Then, in 2003, the Coyotes moved into Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, which was better suited for hockey. At the same time, the team started to tank, not making the playoffs again until the 2009-10 season.

Now they finally have an arena and a competitive team on the ice that has been the most successful professional sports team in Phoenix since 2010 - three playoff appearances, including wining the Pacific Division last year, and finishing three wins shy of playing for the Stanley Cup.

But there's an ownership saga that has lasted since 2009 when the NHL bought the team out of bankruptcy.

Since then, there have been many promises of a new owner, but the deal always falls through. The latest was Greg Jamison, who had secured a lease agreement with the city of Glendale to operate the city-owned arena. But just like others before him, the deal broke down and cries for the team to move have grown louder - especially north of the border in Quebec City, where fans yearn for the return of the NHL.

Critics will claim that hockey won't work in the desert. However, 15,425 fans attended Saturday's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets and another 17,208 showed up for Monday's game against the Calgary Flames. Hockey in the desert can succeed if it's given a fair shake, something that hasn't happened.

Part of the problem was the arena - problem solved. The other problem is, Phoenix sports fans will only support a winner. When the team wins, people will come. Ask the Diamondbacks. In 2002, the team drew 3.2 million fans after winning the World Series in 2001. In 2005 the team barely drew 2 million fans, a year after they lost 111 games.

The other thing it's hockey and for many hockey tends to be the fourth most popular sport compared to baseball, football and basketball.

But hockey is exciting and a fun sport to watch. It's one of those sports you get hooked on after seeing it live.

That's what happened to me. I liked the sport but didn't really get into it until I started going to games. Last year I saw three Coyotes games, and I attended Saturday's 5-3 win over the Blue Jackets.

For me, hockey provides something to get through the winter without baseball, but for others in Glendale, it also provides a living.

A Coyotes move would be disastrous for the city of Glendale. The city currently owes more than $100 million on the arena and would be left figuring out how to pay off a building with no major tenant.

The other thing the Coyotes provide is sales taxes in the arena itself and outside of it in the entertainment complex known as Westgate, where bars and restaurants are packed before and after games.

It was there that a waiter told me he'd seen a 20 percent increase in tips since the NHL lockout came to an end and the Coyotes started playing again.

If the team moved, Westgate would be a ghost town. How else are you going to attract around 14,000 people to a place for 41 nights from October until April?

While the Coyotes have had their fair share of problems since arriving in the desert 17 years ago, they've also haven't had a fair shake.

With an arena, a good team on the ice and an owner who knows what he or she is doing, hockey in the desert can succeed.