SBJ/Aug. 12-18, 2013/Franchises

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  • New owners see Coyotes thriving in Phoenix

    Becoming the co-owner and alternate governor of a team that has been owned by its league for the last four years means that Anthony LeBlanc has a lot of work ahead of him.

    LeBlanc, fellow Canadian businessman George Gosbee and nine partners completed their acquisition of the Phoenix Coyotes from the NHL last week. The consortium, operating as IceArizona/Renaissance Sports and Entertainment, purchased the team for $170 million. The ownership group also signed a 15-year agreement with the city of Glendale to keep the Coyotes in Jobing.com Arena, but it has an out clause after five years if the team loses a cumulative $50 million.

    NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (center) welcomes the Coyotes’ new owners George Gosbee (left) and Anthony LeBlanc.
    Photo by: NORM HALL / PHOENIX COYOTES
    In his first days with the Coyotes, LeBlanc, 43, had already tired of speaking about that out clause, saying it was merely a necessity for his group to protect its investment. The club’s new slogan is “Here to Stay,” and LeBlanc professes to thinking about nothing but seeing the Coyotes thrive in Arizona.

    “Nobody questions the viability of hockey in other nontraditional markets like San Jose or Dallas,” said LeBlanc, who will become the Coyotes’ CEO pending visa paperwork. “But it’s our view that the Phoenix market is a better potential market. Those cities also don’t have the influx of Canadians in the winters that we can reach.”

    The NHL similarly is convinced that bright days are ahead.

    “We’ve always believed that the Coyotes are well-positioned for success both on and off the ice,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “All they really needed was permanent, stable and committed ownership, and they have that now in the Renaissance group. The new ownership has energy, creativity and skill.”

    Speaking last Thursday, LeBlanc lent some insight into his focus and some of the most-pressing items on his to-do list:

    Local TV deal: The Coyotes’ deal with Fox Sports Arizona has been a year-to-year agreement during the NHL’s ownership of the team. Renaissance hopes to make a short-term deal with the network but knows there isn’t a lot of time. “Our purchase of the team only got done about six weeks before our first preseason game,” LeBlanc said. “It’s imperative that we’re ready to go on television for the start of the season. We haven’t even sat down with Fox Sports Arizona yet, but we’re hoping to get together very soon.”

    Concessions contract: The Coyotes’ bankruptcy filing voided its agreement with Aramark, so the club can explore options for a concessionaire. “We started conversations with Aramark and other organizations [last week],” LeBlanc said. “We hope to put out a formal RFP soon. But because of the bankruptcy, we have the ability to explore options. That’s something else that needs to get done in about a month.”

    Sponsorships and suites: LeBlanc said his group’s confidence in the market stems, in part, from the Coyotes’ strong sponsorship sales about seven years ago — before the club went into bankruptcy and the economy plummeted. “The team used to do quite well in corporate sales,” he said. “But this region was decimated by the recession and, as you can understand, local businesses were not lining up to get behind a hockey team with such an uncertain future. Now, the economic rebound has been strong in the region, and we’re already starting to hear from prospective sponsors who are happy the Coyotes are now here to stay.”

    Staffing: At their introductory press conference, LeBlanc and Gosbee (who will be the club’s chairman and governor) were complimentary of the Coyotes’ current management. “We will be doing some hiring,” LeBlanc said, “but it won’t be about replacing people; it will be about adding people.”

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