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An open letter to Arizona Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo from a group of PHNX Sports Diehards: 'We need to hear from you"
I am not sure how to start this Coyotes op-ed. It does not seem as easy as it was to write my novel. In novels when people get hurt, it is not real. In professional sports when fan bases get shredded daily by a barrage of mean-spirited, self-serving and uneducated outsiders while the team that they cheer for is silently sitting out the fight, it can be devastating.
The theme of this op-ed is simple: It is time for the fans of the Arizona Coyotes to hear directly from owner Alex Meruelo.
I asked some of my fellow Diehards on the PHNX Coyotes Discord channel if they would participate in this op-ed. Their contributions will appear throughout this piece.
Sins of the past
Mr. Meruelo: It is not your fault that multiple past Coyotes owners tripped all over themselves. In the process, they put this fan base through an embarrassing series of mishaps and flat-out awful decisions.
It is not your fault that the team went bankrupt and eventually ended up as a tenant in a building built on a cotton field in the middle of nowhere. Those were the sins of the past and it is unfair to hold you accountable for others’ business decisions.
After 25-plus seasons, we know all about poor ownership. I believe that you do not fit into this category. I do think you need help, however, and I think you need to hear from the fans.
Sins of the present
Instead of running through a list of criticisms about the recent Tempe election, your choice to concentrate on a fashion line instead of a campaign, and your lack of connection with the community, I want to focus on the future.
There have been documented missteps which have, to my knowledge, all been corrected, but they accumulate, and they tell a story of a business sorely in need of an image rebrand. I am not talking about new jerseys or socks or whatever. I am talking about a team that needs to prove to the league, fans and the hockey community that they know how to fix a complex problem.
From Charles Woodall-Pike: “It has honestly been a frustrating process to watch unfold. When Alex Meruelo took over the team in 2019, I felt like it was the beginning of a new era for the Coyotes. What I have seen so far has unfortunately echoed all of the problems and uncertainty that have hounded the Yotes since the 2009 bankruptcy.”
What ownership of a public sports team means to fans
As the owner of a major sports franchise, you have many options when it comes to dealing with the media, fans and the public. Right now, your fan base is getting slaughtered daily on social media, in print, and by journalists with questionable sourcing and motives. Yet you are silent. This is not the option we need from you.
An entire country insults us, calls us a poverty franchise, and demands that the team be relocated to cities with populations sometimes smaller than Tucson. Yet you are silent.
Cities, mayors, and governors across the U.S. are openly lobbying for this franchise to relocate — to the point where they are publicly stating that they have had meetings with the league. Yet you are silent.
Being a silent owner is not a crime. It is your choice. Bill Bidwill was a silent owner. We almost never heard from him. Without the bow tie, we would not have even recognized him.
Other owners such as Jerry Colangelo have been more vocal. That approach does not make one owner better than the other, but in a time of need — in a time when thousands of us foot soldiers are fighting off millions of vicious, hating and offensive trolls — we need to hear from our leader. We need to know that you are in the trenches with us. We have been fighting for two and a half decades. You are the new guy.
From Kenny Dietz: “I feel that the Coyotes hit a home run with Mullett Arena, but the events surrounding the Tempe Arena vote were not handled well. A community that is being lied to about a behind-the-scenes billionaire owner requires that owner to come out in public and defend himself.”
Xavier Gutierrez is a nice guy whom I have met several times at the arena, but he is not you. He is a brilliant businessman with all of the right credentials, but we need to hear from the head of the hockey team. We need you to lead from the front.
There is nothing more that I want to see than you riding in a convertible, or on top of a bus down Central Ave. (or Scottsdale Road, or Mill Ave., or Main St.) next to the Stanley Cup. I believe that the management team you have built for the development of that winner is phenomenal. You hired the right GM, coach and scouting staff to make that dream a reality. You get less credit for this than you deserve.
Here are some things that I would like you to address (not your CEO, not a press release, and not whatever it is your social media group is trying to do).
- I would like for you to provide insight about the campaign and why the Coyotes were outspent by an out-of-state labor union. What did they get out of that? Is there a history of problems between your organization and this union?
- Why was any time or money spent on launching a fashion line when such an important vote was on the table?
- Gutierrez said that his number one-through-ten priorities were to get an arena built. He failed in tempe. Why is he still in a dual position of leadership with this team? Perhaps having a hockey person as the president of hockey operations and face of the franchise would help. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman held the wolves at bay long enough for Gutierrez and the business management team to bring you a winning idea for a new arena, but there are too many priorities with this team for one person to handle them alone; especially one who did not come through on the business side and who lacks experience on the hockey side. (Note: We are not all aligned on this opinion. Some of us believe that Gutierrez should remain in a dual role.
- You sent out a short press release stating that you are not selling or moving the team. That’s nice, but we need to hear that from you with reporters asking the hard follow-up questions. We need to know that your heart is in it as much as your wallet. I will state it here for the record: You are losing a ton of money each year. We know it, we appreciate it, and we fight on your behalf daily because of it. We will do all that we can to help you recover your money and more.
From Bryan Holloway: “I think that Alex Meruelo and the Coyotes executive management team may have drastically underestimated the level of effort required in this campaign by the team. It was evident in the drumming that propositions 301, 302, and 303 took on May 16. I would have liked to see Alex Meruelo hold a press conference addressing the defeat on May 17, with or without Xavier Gutierrez, to verbally commit the team to remaining in Arizona, along with assurances that contingencies to the TED had been formulated months ago and were in the process of being acted upon.”
Mr. Meruelo: You have an amazing record of taking over struggling businesses and turning them into winners. We believe in that, and we believe in you. This is your opportunity to walk to a microphone or sit with the PHNX Coyotes team for an hour— like your CEO and GM have done multiple times — to give us a reason to stay in this fight. Only you can start the puck moving toward our common goal. We need to hear from you.
From Bryan: “Quite frankly, this needs to happen before NHL free agency starts on July 1. This statement needs to be addressed specifically to the Coyotes’ players and fans, as well as every single media member and social media user clamoring for this team’s relocation.”
From Kenny Dietz: “Please come on camera and talk to your fans who have experienced myriad emotions since the failed Tempe vote.”
From Charles Woodall-Pike: “I don’t want to hear about the state of the franchise via a media statement with Xavier Gutierrez’s name at the bottom. Alex Meruelo is the owner.”
Thank you for reading, Mr. Meruelo. An entire fan base awaits your response.
Chris Faciana is a Peoria resident who has been a Coyotes fan since the day the Winnipeg Jets announced their move to Phoenix.
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