The odyssey is over.
The sale of the Phoenix Coyotes is done.
After four years of economic turmoil, uncertainty and fan conjecture, the Phoenix Coyotes’ future is secure. The new owners took center stage Tuesday afternoon at a news conference to hearken a new day and fill the Jobing.com Arena media lounge with smiles.
Despite an umbrella of adulation, the true test begins. Going forward, the new ownership must energize a tranquil fanbase, put fans in the stands and improve a bleak economic realism.
These are issues for long-term consideration. The immediate attention centers on the transfer of a franchise and hope for its future.
Basking in the glory of the moment, new owner and Coyotes governor George Gosbee stood in front of a bank of television lights, surrounded by a thicket of microphones, buried in a mine field of reporters’ notebooks and flashed smile after smile.
For the day after buying the Phoenix Coyotes from the NHL, Gosbee was beaming, joking, acting like the kid with his hand in the cookie jar and added, “a dream come true for a Canadian kid.”
Standing by his side was NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
Vilified by fans at the recent draft in Newark, Bettman showed the mettle of a conquering hero Tuesday afternoon and was all too happy to turn over the keys to the kingdom.
As keeper of the Coyotes the past four years, Bettman remained steadfast that the NHL must maintain a franchise in the Phoenix market and told reporters at the Tuesday news conference announcing to sale of the Coyotes to Gosbee‘s group, “We always believed in this market.”
While other suitors clamored for attention and location of the Phoenix franchise, Bettman held his ground. Even when possible buyers disappeared amid the desert winds, Bettman still held out hope that a buyer on a sliver stallion would sweep into town.
Now Gosbee, Anthony LeBlanc and their associates of IceArizona AcquisitionCo., LLC have collectively rescued the franchise from the grip of financial ruin.
While the Coyotes appear to be on solid ice for the first time in nearly five years, the sale of the team to the private holdings of Gosbee and his group is much bigger than the smiles flashed at Tuesday’s news conference.
The Coyotes now have a voice among league affairs.
That means an influential seat at the NHL table and equal to the Devils’ Lou Lamoriello, the Wirtz family as owners of the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, Mike Ilitch of Detroit and Ed Snider of the Flyers.
“Now, we have an advocate, and I’m the number one fan, the number one supporter and look forward to having a seat at that table,” Gosbee said. “Overall, the other owners were very supportive of our desire to acquire the franchise, and I look forward to working with everyone to make our product great.”
After Phoenix was eliminated in the Western Conference finals two years ago by the Los Angeles Kings, several players were frustrated by the lack of ownership. In this regard, calls on the ice were questioned and players had no recourse to challenge any decisions.
Then-center Ray Whitney told reporters the day after the Coyotes were eliminated that, without private ownership, the team had no way to respond.
“To whom could we complain,” he said at the time. “We couldn’t argue with the league because they owned the team. We just stood there and watched our owner hand out that trophy to the Kings.”
In essence, the NHL had no interest in operating the Phoenix franchise, and clearly no desire to be an advocate at the league table. All along, Bettman insisted the league wanted a team in the Phoenix. That was because of the Phoenix economic structure and television market.
Now, that’s changed. While the Coyotes will not go crying to the league on any issue, the franchise can now argue a particular position independent of the league’s power brokers.
“Without ownership, we were at a competitive disadvantage,” said captain Shane Doan, who attended the Tuesday news conference. “Now, there’s a genuine excitement about this team and I’m sure we’ll see a high confidence and security about the team.”
With the sale of the team to Gosbee and his group, the change of ownership has not translated into ticket sales.
“In conversations we had with previous season ticket owners, they told us to come back after the sale,” said Mike Neely, the Coyotes’ chief operating officer. “For what I have learned from the sale, it’s very positive in the community. Yes, I can see an increase toward ticket sales.”
Neely indicated the Coyotes are only offering season ticket plans at this point. In the next week, the team will offer partial season plans. The sale of individual game tickets is still several weeks away.
The Coyotes open the 2013-14 season at home Oct. 3 against the New York Rangers.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.