Coyotes’ Name, Logo to Remain in Phoenix While Team Relocates

The Arizona Coyotes in their current iteration are relocating to Salt Lake City. But Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo will continue to pursue building a $3 billion arena and entertainment project in North Phoenix with the possibility of resurrecting the franchise, an NHL source told Sportico late Friday night.

In a statement on Saturday, Meruelo said, “We are focused on a myriad of issues that are unresolved, and therefore we are unable to make any official public comments at this time. However, you have my commitment that I am going to speak on all these issues and publicly address all of your concerns as promptly as possible.”

When the deal in Salt Lake City is completed, the Coyotes’ hockey operations department and players are being sold, rebranded and relocated in time for the 2024-25 season at a cost of $1.2 billion, the source said.

In a complicated transaction, Meruelo is selling the franchise to Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith, but Meruelo will maintain the Coyotes’ name, logos and trademarks, plus ownership of the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners. He also has been given a five-year window by the NHL to complete his proposed arena project and apply for another NHL franchise, the source said.

Meruelo is set to receive $1 billion of the sale price, with the remaining $200 million being paid to the NHL, which is brokering the deal. If the arena is built, Meruelo will pay the $1 billion back to the league in exchange for the rights to the new Coyotes.  

In the meantime, the current team will play in an upgraded Delta Center in Salt Lake City, the Coyotes players were told by general manager Bill Armstrong prior to a game in Edmonton Friday night, ESPN reported and the source confirmed.

Wednesday night’s game in the Mullett Arena on the campus of Arizona State University against the same Oilers will be the last for this particular version of the club in the Valley. 

Meruelo bought the team in July 2019 for $425 million, and it was valued recently by Sportico at $675 million, by far the lowest of the NHL’s 32 teams.

Meruelo, the source said, will still pursue a June 27 auction so the club can buy a 95-acre parcel of untreated Arizona state trust land on the border of North Phoenix and North Scottsdale at a starting appraisal price of $68.5 million.

If he prevails in that auction, the cost of the project would include in excess of $100 million for infrastructure and $1 billion for the arena, training complex and theater in the first phase.

The team would have been in peril of moving anyway if the Coyotes lost the auction, which had been approved last month by the Arizona State Land Department Board of Appeals.

“If we are not the winning bidder, then we would more than likely have to entertain a relocation of the franchise,” Xavier Gutierrez, the club’s president, said recently in a telephone interview. “This would be our only option.”

The team would have had to play at least another three seasons in the 4,600-seat Mullett Arena, a college rink. And that was a major issue for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his deputy, Bill Daly, who aired those concerns with Meruelo.

All sides agree that such an arrangement wouldn’t be fair to the players, who were not happy with the subpar state of conditions at the Mullett. There they used makeshift locker rooms outside the main building that cost the Coyotes $30 million to build and practiced off campus at a nearby facility in Scottsdale called the Ice Den.

The team has lost “a substantial” amount of money playing the past two seasons in the Mullet, Gutierrez said, declining to place a solid figure on it, although Sportico has been told those losses are in the mid-to-high eight-figure range.

All sides reached an agreement that instead of playing in the Mullett, Meruelo’s portion of the franchise would become inactive for up to five years until–when and if–he completes the arena project while the players go to Salt Lake City.

In the meantime, negotiations will be conducted to move the Roadrunners from Tucson to replace the Coyotes at the Mullett, the source said.

This story was updated in the second paragraph with a statement Saturday afternoon from Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo.

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