In one of the most detailed, highest-of-quality articles I’ve read in ages, Katie Strang of The Athletic walks readers through the disaster that seems to be the Arizona Coyotes franchise, including ownership and management issues, internal turmoil, lawsuits, unpaid invoices, breaches of contract, shady business dealings, claims of sexual harassment, and other problems that can only suggest the Coyotes are perhaps one of the biggest failed experiments in sports history.
Strang goes into great detail about the change in ownership and what was to be the ushering in of a new era for the Coyotes organization. The weeks and months following the purchase by Alex Meruelo in July of 2019 were anything but celebrated. Noting he came in with an extensive business background, he has approached operations of the team like he approached running casinos, radio stations, pizza joints and other businesses he owned and operated to make his substantial wealth.
While Meruelo inherited issues with the franchise that were apparently much worse than were divulged or presented to the public, Strang writes:
Meruelo’s acquisition of the Coyotes was supposed to portend a new era for the team. Instead, people within the organization and across the NHL are now wondering if the league erred in approving his purchase.
The new leadership team put in place under Merulo’s watch includes Luis Armona and Armando Delgado from the Meruelo Group. Both have scrutinized even the smallest of expenditures. So too, outbursts from those at the very top of the organization were not uncommon and vendors have been duped out of monies owing to them as the team’s relationships with corporate partners, vendors and suppliers eroded.
Strang specifically discusses instances where at least eight vendors were called and threatened or scared into accepting lower payouts of outstanding balances and then being paid for the work after they’d agreed to settle. One vendor noted that it felt like this was a strategy the Coyotes had implemented hundreds of times and they knew exactly what they were doing.
Players and prospects were not paid signing bonuses, long-time employees were not paid or wrongfully terminated and there are countless stories of unpaid debts.
Of course, there was also the news of former GM John Chayka’s ugly exit from the organization, but things don’t seem to be much better under new GM Bill Armstrong who was named Chayka’s successor in September. Strang noted that Armstrong actually threatened her when an email and his daily schedule and other files had been “stolen from his computer.” As many of her fellow writers at The Athletic are noting, Armstrong clearly did not understand who he was trying to intimidate.
Strang goes on to note that, “Multiple employees have said they reached out to the NHL about issues in the workplace, to document what they were experiencing and, in some cases, to seek help.”
Not Even the Start of the Coyotes Organizational Issues
Outside of the already public missteps that include the Coyotes illegally testing players at the NHL combine, or the drafting of Mitchell Miller (who the team then renounced the rights to) and a mental performance consultant came under scrutiny for — despite never having been considered a key decision-maker or included in any scout meetings — in January, there will sexual harassment issues, financial reporting discrepancies, appropriation of monies problems and more. Many are being looked into by the law firm Seyfarth Shaw.
On February 11, the Coyotes terminated the contract of former Assistant General Manager and EVP of Hockey Operations Steve Sullivan. The team will not be filling their vacant assistant general manager position this season but Stacy Gabriel, Sullivan’s attorney, said she will be filing a demand for arbitration with the commissioner’s office.
“It’s our position that the Coyotes breached the contract – he has an employment agreement and they breached that agreement – and we intend to pursue remedies through the arbitration process.”
What’s crazy about the story is that there’s more than we’re touching on here. Strang’s report is eye-opening. This is a must-read and easily worth the cost of a subscription to the publication.
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