How the Flyers helped save the Coyotes

The Coyotes' Mikkel Boedker (89), of Denmark, moves with the puck in front of Philadelphia Flyers' Steve Downie (9) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, in Glendale, Ariz. The Flyers defeated the Coyotes 5-3. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It began the way most business deals do, through networking and a simple conversation.

It ended last summer with the Flyers and their parent company, Comcast-Spectacor, helping to broker a deal to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in the desert.

After five seasons of funding their payroll and losses, the NHL was tired of operating the Coyotes since taking over the team in bankruptcy in 2009. They set a firm July 2, 2013 date for prospective owner to finalize a lease agreement with the City of Glendale, the owner of Arena.

If not, the Coyotes weren’t sticking around for another year in the Valley of the Sun. Seattle was the rumored destination.

The City of Glendale was confident that would-be owners Renaissance Sports and Entertainment - led by George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc - could operate the franchise.

Glendale was less convinced Gosbee and LeBlanc could manage and fill an arena on dates when the Coyotes were out of town and not playing.

That’s where the Flyers and Comcast-Spectacor subsidiary Global Spectrum came in. Former Spectacor president Peter Luukko mentioned the possibility to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at a Board of Governors meeting and the connection was made.

On the day the NHL set as a do-or-die deadline - July 2 - Global Spectrum helped swing the final vote, a 3-2 margin, toward Glendale approving a new lease for the new owners.

The fact that Global Spectrum, operators of 122 other arenas and stadiums around the world, had a working relationship with Glendale already proved to be a big difference-maker. Global Spectrum manages University of Phoenix stadium - where the Cardinals play and the 2015 Super Bowl will be hosted - across the parking from Arena.

“It was a quick marriage,” Global Spectrum COO John Page told the Daily News. “We knew that George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc could handle the hockey part. I think it was important for the city to know that we understand the arena business, we can support the team, and the fact that Ed Snider is well-respected in the hockey community probably just provided Glendale with additional comfort.”

The City of Glendale will pay the Coyotes $15 million a year for the next 15 years to stay in Arizona. For the city, spending the cash was better than paying a note on a sparkling but vacant 19,000-seat arena. 

It is Global Spectrum’s job to help fill the arena when the Coyotes aren’t playing. That’s why company officials are calling Glendale now “Wells Fargo Center West.” 

Page said Global Spectrum did not provide any sort of guarantee to Glendale or the Coyotes on a specific number of dates or revenue, signing a more traditional management deal. Global Spectrum was not able to harness all of Comcast-Spectacor’s arena management talents, particularly in the food and beverage facet, where Levy Restaurants held an edge by cutting Glendale and the Coyotes a large check to stay put. Levy Restaurants handles food and beverage for 10 other NHL arenas.

“Using the Philly model we have here, we’re making a real effort to maximize marketing with the arena,” Page said. “We are working hard to get involved in the booking cycle, leveraging current buys. It’s a competitive market. We believe Arena can be a major player in the Valley of the Sun.”

So far, Page says the booking has gone “about as expected” so far. Opened in 2003, Arena is a beautiful facility, full with all of the modern amenities. It’s dual-level concourses would remind you a lot of Pittsburgh’s new Consol Energy Center.

Attendance at the arena remains the lowest in the NHL, averaging 13,056 fans per game. The Flyers brought a crowd of 14,875, not nearing a hockey capacity of 17,125. The glaring weak spot remains premium seat sales - as the majority of suites are noticeably empty. Global Spectrum’s brief contract for premium seat and suite sales already expired, Page said, and has not yet been renewed.

The problems facing Global Spectrum are two-fold: the 223-acre, $1 billion stadium complex known as Westgate City Center is located approximately 20 miles away from its client base in Scottsdale and Phoenix proper, plus they have a direct competitor in the US Airways Center.

The Coyotes spent the first seven and a half seasons at the US Airways Center in downtown Phoenix before moving to Glendale.

Despite the fact that Arena was voted as 2004’s Best New Concert Venue by Pollstar, they’ve had trouble attracting acts. A look at Arena’s calendar would prove it: there is only one event currently scheduled from May through September - a Justin Timberlake concert on Aug. 9. Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Elton John have performed at Arena before, but they have all come back.

Compare that with the US Airways Center - which has George Strait, Miley Cyrus, the WWE, the WNBA and the Arena Football League’s Rattlers on the schedule - the tide is slow to turn.

Still, for Global Spectrum, attracting a major tour like Timberlake was a nice coup. Using their connections at the Wells Fargo Center and around the country, Global Spectrum is hoping more acts will follow in the next booking cycle.

“One day at a time,” Page said is Global Spectrum’s model at Arena.

Page and a group of Global Spectrum executives will be traveling to Glendale next week for meetings about how to improve Westgate City Center and the surrounding area - similar but bigger than Xfinity Live - to make it more attractive.

For now, the quick marriage between the Flyers’ parent company and the Coyotes is still in the honeymoon stage. With the help of Global Spectrum, the Coyotes’ new owners were able to finally sign a lease with Glendale, something three prospective owners could never do. That's easily the biggest win in Coyotes franchise history.

For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers