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Gosbee confident success is coming for Coyotes

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The bouquet of flowers sitting in George Gosbee's office across the street from Arena came from a new admirer.

His week-old Twitter account has more than 1,300 followers. A 70-year-old hockey lifer drove nearly 100 miles from Tucson to hug him with tears streaming down her face at a Phoenix Coyotes season-ticket event.

Yes, there is no doubt the Coyotes' die-hard fan base is over the moon after Gosbee and his IceArizona partners ended the team's five-year stint as pro-sports orphans and completed their purchase of the team in July.

Now comes the real challenge.

The owners are betting there are enough hockey fans living in and around Phoenix, the fifth-largest city in the United States, who will trek to suburban Glendale and turn the Coyotes' checkered 16-year past into a long-term success story. Gosbee, a 43-year-old Calgary-based financier and lifelong hockey fan, isn't predicting midweek sellouts, but the early indicators are positive.

"Just since the announcement, we're not seeing just renewals, we're seeing new season-ticket holders come in steadily," Gosbee said. "We've also sold 10 corporate boxes over the same period.

"We have a real hardcore fan base here. We have a phenomenal facility. Now we just have to make sure everyone knows we're here to stay. Our fans have been through losing seasons, work stoppages, ownership uncertainly … but they stuck with us and brighter days are here. Our base has been increasing as the team has been more successful and now the job is to build from there."

There are other good signs. New money from rebalanced revenue sharing included in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and an improved television deal, gave Gosbee, "a lot of confidence in the viability and direction of the League." Division realignment will give Canadian hockey fans who visit Arizona during the winter extra chances to see the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.

"One of the first games I saw here was against Calgary and I came down with a good friend, [former Flames goalie] Mike Vernon," Gosbee said. "It took us an hour just to get to our seats. A whole generation of people who watched Mike and those great Flames teams has moved down here and he was just mobbed. That's when it really hit me how many Canadians and devoted hockey fans there are here.

"We just have to give them a reason to come more often and to be Coyotes fans when their team isn't here."

The Coyotes reached the Western Conference Final in 2012 before a run of three straight Stanley Cup Playoff appearances ended last season. The new ownership agreed to long-term contracts for general manager Don Maloney, coach Dave Tippett and goalie Mike Smith before Maloney signed playmaking center Mike Ribeiro in free agency.

Gosbee is expected to be an active owner, and there are plans for marketing and presentation, but the group said it has no intention of meddling in the personnel side of the team.

"We give Don [payroll] parameters. We want him to continue to do what he does and stay out of his kitchen," Gosbee said. "You won't see me down in the room between periods telling them how to run the power play. We have faith in the people we have in place.

"It was important to us that Don and [Tippet] and Mike Smith stay and keep that core intact, but we also have one of the best dressing rooms in the League, a great mixture of veterans and exciting young players.

"We've factored in payroll increases every year, and we can exceed those if we're doing better financially. We understand to have a winning product on the ice you have to pay for it, within reason. We've already shown we're comfortable exploring the free-agent market when Don sees opportunities."

Recent Coyotes owners Steve Ellman and Jerry Moyes had only a pedestrian knowledge of hockey, but the 11 members of the new group (all Canadian) are fans and have roots in the sport.

The team's "Here to Stay" marketing campaign will debut with a series of commercials during the Arizona Cardinals' NFL regular-season opener Sept. 8. Increased visibility and rededication to the youth hockey presence in Arizona will give the Coyotes an opportunity to lure fringe fans from the NBA's Phoenix Suns.

"The unique thing about this deal is there isn't one thing we're dependent upon to make it work," Gosbee said. "A series of things will come into play. Some things will work, some won't. But I have confidence that enough will work to grow this into a strong franchise which people will want to be a part of.

"The new CBA gave me a lot of confidence in the viability and direction of the League. It's in a good place and has a lot of momentum. The [TV] ratings for the Stanley Cup were almost equal to the World Series this year. And the energy from our fans in our building is really outstanding. I felt it right away."

The 15-year arena deal with the City of Glendale includes an out clause in five years if the team loses $50 million, a figure surpassed over the previous five years. The clause has been well-publicized and given pause to those tired of the ongoing financial saga. But Gosbee said it's an overhyped and misunderstood mechanism and the Coyotes are in Arizona to stay.

"It's not like in five years we can move or sell the team," he said. "We can't. We have an out clause if we lose $50 million. If that gets triggered it's a real disaster for me, so I don't want [it] to work even more than the fans do. It's a fallback where if all the moons align and the worst-case scenario happens, we at least have some options.

"We're coming into this with a unique deal. We're very well capitalized. We can withstand tough seasons or losses. We know this will take time to overcome and build, and we'll get there."

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