GLENDALE, Ariz. – Ice Edge chief operating office Daryl Jones attended the Phoenix Coyotes’ home opener Saturday night.
Someday, that might not be newsworthy – if Jones’ Ice Edge group buys the team.
Jones and Ice Edge investors have been discussing lease options with Glendale officials with an eye toward reviving their bid for the financially ailing Coyotes, whose sale has been tied up in a complicated bankruptcy proceeding.
“Our intention is to buy the team,” Jones told The Associated Press. “I think people are sort of not sure whether we’re serious, just because maybe they don’t know a whole lot about us. But the fact that we had a $10 million deposit, the fact that we’ve been in this for three or four months, spending the money you need to be involved.”
Jones, a Connecticut-based investor, heads a group of Canadian and American business people interested in buying the team and keeping it in Glendale, although they hope to play a handful of home games in Saskatoon.
Ice Edge’s original bid was thought to be around US$150 million, but the group pulled out before an auction last month.
Bankruptcy court judge Redfield T. Baum rejected the only remaining bids for the club – by Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie and the NHL. Baum threw out Balsillie’s bid but left the door open for the league to purchase the franchise if it amends its offer to treat Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes and ex-coach Wayne Gretzky more favourably.
The NHL wants to re-sell the franchise to a local buyer, and that’s where Ice Edge hopes to step in.
The process has dragged on since Moyes filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on May 5, but Jones hopes it will move quickly if the NHL can win control of the team in court.
“The ideal scenario, I think, is that somebody buys the team quickly,” Jones said. “Because if not, I think extended uncertainty is just going to lead to poor ticket sales and basically a lot of losses on the business side.”
The Coyotes sold out Saturday night’s home opener against Columbus by drastically reducing ticket prices throughout the arena.
The team has lost at least $30 million each of the last three seasons and more than $300 million since moving from Winnipeg in 1996. Jones said he expects another year or two in the red but thinks the team can make money with better management.
“I think a lot of it has to do with professional management,” he said. “Expenses and revenues were really mismatched here. But you have to have a long-term strategy and build up a base of fans. My sense is that that really hasn’t happened here.”
Jones said Ice Edge is committed to playing some Coyotes home games in Saskatoon, even though that has raised concerns among some fans here.
“We want to make sure that we do it in a way that it doesn’t hurt the fan base here and doesn’t send the wrong message to the fan base here, because you don’t want the fan base here to think that’s a step to moving the team,” Jones said. “You want them to think that’s just part of expanding a broader fan base.”
Jones brushed off a hypothetical question about how much money Ice Edge would accept losing before it would consider relocating.
“We’re doing this because we think we can make it work, so we’re not even contemplating the idea of moving the team in five years, 10 years,” Jones said. “As investors, if we’re not making money in five or seven years, I think we’re going to have to look and think hard at our plan.
“We haven’t even talked to the city about the idea of the ability to move the team at some point in the future because we don’t want to,” Jones said. “That’s no way to enter into a partnership.”
Ice Edge’s original bid had called for Gretzky to coach the team at a reduced salary, but Gretzky quit nine days before the opener. Jones said the group would still like to have Gretzky involved, although he didn’t mention a specific role.
“From our perspective, there’s always going to be a place for ’99’ with Ice Edge,” he said.