Coyotes blame ‘human error,’ vow to pay all bills to avoid arena lockout

The Arizona Coyotes say they will make sure all unpaid bills are dealt with on Thursday after Katie Strang of The Athletic reported on Wednesday that the team could be locked out of its arena later this month because of financial issues.

“We have already launched an investigation to determine how this could have happened and initial indications are that it appears to be the result of an unfortunate human error,” the Coyotes said in a statement released early Thursday morning. “Regardless, we deeply regret the inconvenience this has caused. We will make sure that by (Wednesday) morning, the Arizona Coyotes are current on all of our bills and owe no state or local taxes whatsoever. And we will take immediate steps to ensure that nothing like this can ever possibly happen again.”

Strang reports the City of Glendale is owed about $250,000 in unpaid city taxes for use of Gila River Arena.

Strang writes the Arizona Department of Revenue filed a tax lien notice against the company that owns the Coyotes for more than $1.3 million earlier this month.

According to Strang, if the debt is not settled by Dec. 20, the City of Glendale has told the arena managers to deny team employees access to the arena.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, reporting from the NHL’s Board of Governors meeting in Florida, said there has been concern about the Coyotes’ ability to pay future bills.

“I’ve been told there’s two separate issues here,” he said. “The first is that particular ($1.3 million) bill. But also there is a concern about what happens if the Coyotes pay that bill, will they guarantee that future tax monies that are owed until the end of the season? That they are concerned about the possibilities that the Coyotes pay this bill then don’t pay in the future and they have to chase them again. So I think there is a possibility the Coyotes could be asked to pay this and future money before they are allowed to go back into the building.”

The Coyotes’ first game following the deadline is on Dec. 23 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The NHL did not immediately respond for comment.

The Coyotes had been leasing Gila River Arena on an annual basis since the Glendale City Council voted to opt out of a multimillion-dollar long-term deal in 2016. Glendale announced recently that it will not renew its agreement with the franchise beyond the 2021-22 season.

The Coyotes have played at Gila River Arena since moving from America West Arena, which they shared with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, in downtown Phoenix in 2003.

In September, the Coyotes proposed a $1.7 billion development in Tempe, a city just east of Phoenix, that included a hockey arena, restaurants, shops and apartments on a 46-acre tract of land near the city’s downtown.

The team said the arena would be funded by private investors, but would seek city sales tax revenues to help pay for $200 million in additional costs, including infrastructure work.

The city of Tempe said the evaluation process would take several months and will include extensive examinations, with opportunities for community feedback.

Last week, the Coyotes issued a statement denying a report which said the team was up for sale and could be relocated to Houston.

“This is false,” the statement read. “Totally false. We’re not selling. We’re not moving. The Coyotes are 100 per cent committed to playing in Arizona.”

A legal analyst for Forbes, Eric Macramalla, had reported that the team was for sale with the intention of an eventual relocation to Houston, citing an anonymous banking source.

According to ESPN, the Coyotes are 30th in the 32-team league in average attendance this year at 12,205 fans per game. In a list released Wednesday, Forbes valued the Coyotes as the least valuable NHL franchise at an estimated $400-million.

With files from the Associated Press

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