Alex Meruelo started his press conference with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman by tripping over a light in front of the stand. It wasn’t a fantastic outing for the former Arizona Coyotes owner as he made his first public appearance since 2019 when he first bought the team. Many wanted answers for where he’s been, why he hasn’t been talking, what’s happening now, and other pressing topics and there weren’t a lot of great responses by Meruelo. Here are some takeaways from Friday’s press conference.

No One Knows What Is Happening With the Tucson Roadrunners

A huge takeaway from the press conference was Meruelo addressing the future of the American Hockey League (AHL)’s Tucson Roadrunners. The billionaire will keep control of the team and will become the affiliate of the Salt Lake City NHL team. However, its time in Tucson might be numbered. Meruelo stated earlier this week that he was intent on moving the franchise to Mullett Arena in Tempe.

In the press conference, Meruelo stated once again that he intends to move the AHL franchise to Tempe. He did mention he has not started talks with Arizona State University, the AHL, and the city of Tucson. When asked what he would do to help the hockey community in Tucson if the city loses the Roadrunners, Meruelo backtracked and brought up a new plan in which the team might play half of next season in Mullett Arena and the other half in Tucson.

Related: Arizona Coyotes Officially Relocating to Salt Lake City

While that sounds great from a business perspective, it sounds horrible for the players and staff of the organization. The questions of where would the players and staff live pop up. I don’t think they would like to make the almost two-hour trip each way daily. Then there’s the fact that Meruelo hasn’t even begun talks with ASU yet who is rumored to house the NBA’s Phoenix Suns G-League team next season in Mullett Arena. 

“This is very early in the process so I’m not sure what we’re going to do,” Meruelo said. “We’ve talked about playing half a season in Tucson and half a season in Mullett. There’s a lot of discussion going on. There’s no commitment from anybody right now so I want to make sure my words aren’t being taken out of context. We don’t have any agreements with ASU and we haven’t even spoken to the people in Tucson. We have different ideas. We just want to make sure hockey is thriving in the desert.”

Bettman also backed up Meruelo by stating it’s understandable that there’s not an answer to the issue because the Salt Lake City sale was officially completed and signed off on at 2 AM on Thursday. However, another Tucson question was asked later in the conference and a clearly flustered Meruelo restated what he said before while adding, “I think we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves.”

The Roadrunners are having a great season and are second in the Pacific Division. However, a dark cloud looms over the franchise as Meruelo continues to be uncertain about his team’s future down south. If he moves the Roadrunners, he’ll be devastating another hockey community and it seems like he doesn’t have any plans to help them after he does it.

Tempe Was the Final Straw

Both Bettman and Meruelo made it clear the straw that broke the camel’s back was the failed Tempe vote last year. It was brought up a couple of times throughout the press conference. Meruelo first mentioned it by stating that moving the Coyotes from Glendale to Tempe was the right decision despite the major decrease in seating capacity. Bettman backed him up by stating the Coyotes made more money by being in Mullett Arena.

Bettman later restated that the league is invested in Arizona and is standing by the market by letting them become an inactive franchise, hinting at how they handled the Jerry Moyes incident where he tried to relocate the team without the NHL’s permission.

Despite the numerous potholes and failures in the whole history of the franchise, Bettman still points to one recent moment in time as the biggest disappointment: the Tempe vote last year.

“My biggest disappointment is that the referendum failed in Tempe,” Bettman said. “I’ve never seen a more public-private win-win than that was. The landfill is still there and it’s gonna be there for a long time. There was an opportunity for it to be funded privately and cleaned up. That disappointed me more than all the things we’ve had to deal with in the past 27 years.”

Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Player’s Association Executive Director Donald Fehr (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Meruelo later said that he went door to door last year along with his family to advocate for the Tempe project. He also stated that he spent $7 million on the campaign that ultimately failed. Tempe councilmember Randy Keating later called out Meruelo for lying about the number, stating that the Tempe Wins campaign run by the Coyotes owner only spent $1.1 million according to the public finance report the campaign released.

Whatever the case was, it was a poor campaign that ultimately failed and was one of the main reasons why the Coyotes ended up being sold. This also extended the Coyotes’ timeline at Mullett Arena which was another deciding factor in the sale.

“From our standpoint, it’s not a major league facility,” Bettman said. “We had enough time at a college rink.”

The Five-Year Countdown Starts Now

In the sale, the NHL promised Meruelo the ability to reactivate the Coyotes if an arena is built. Bettman also stated in the conference that Meruelo needs to give the league a year and a half notice of intent to reactivate the franchise. On top of that, the building needs to be at least 50% completed to send the notice of intent.

Bettman also said that Meruelo cannot sell the team within five years of the reactivation of the franchise. The commissioner also stated that Meruelo cannot bring in an ownership partner that owns more than 20% of the franchise.

In the meantime, Coyotes fans will have the ability to watch the Salt Lake City team on Scripps who will maintain rights to broadcast the team’s games. Meruelo also promised to support and grow youth hockey in the region along with continuing the Coyotes foundation. Craig Morgan of PHNX also reported that several influential hockey and business leaders in Arizona are building a foundation to keep hockey growing in Arizona.

Meruelo did start the conference by apologizing and accepting the full blame for the Coyotes moving to Salt Lake City. It was one of the most sincere things he said during the conference.

“I have been confronted with the most painful decision of my life in my 40 years of business. My family and I are devastated and to our fans, we share your disappointment and heartbreak. I am sorry things have gotten to this point and I take full responsibility for my decisions and the outcome.”

However, Meruelo has a lot of repairing to do and the press conference didn’t help him out. In fact, during one of the first questions that he was asked, the billionaire retaliated against the media.

“I don’t like the media,” Meruelo said. “In fact, I own two TV stations in Los Angeles, five radio stations in Los Angeles, and I never once have been on a radio station or TV. I don’t like the media. I avoid media for many reasons.”

Bettman immediately jumped in and tried to do damage control on Meruelo’s statement, which he took back and later clarified he doesn’t like being in the limelight, but the damage was already done. The quote was clearly what Meruelo thought as he canceled a one-on-one interview with Morgan the day of and has barely made any public appearances since purchasing the team in 2019. 

It was clear that Meruelo hadn’t been around media. He was constantly taking statements back and tripping on his own words during the conference. He even got the June 27 auction date wrong. It was a disaster and it was clear Bettman was uncomfortable as he visibly kept squirming and answering questions for Meruelo. It’s now a bit clearer why the team has been using Coyotes president Xavier Gutierrez to do all the talking.

It’s not a good look for the person who has the best chance of bringing NHL hockey back to Arizona. It’s also not great timing as Meruelo has just a little over two months before the North Phoenix auction date which the Coyotes are publicly inviting their fans to attend. Meruelo also failed to answer why he didn’t tell his employees about the relocation, another bad look for him.

Meruelo is confident that he can bring hockey back to the desert. He even was bold enough to say that the Coyotes can be top 10 in revenue in the league with the right arena. It’s a challenge that he’ll have to own up to starting with winning the June 27 auction that he has said multiple times over the past couple of weeks he’s committed to.

Bettman made sure throughout the conference to reemphasize the fact that the league is committed to Arizona. While it might be a difficult time right now for Coyotes fans, the commissioner made sure to leave the state with a seed of hope by quoting the words of American General Douglas MacArthur.

“We shall return.”


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