The Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix in 1996. Things haven't gone well, and Phoenix fans are now facing the same loss Winnipeggers felt 17 years ago. Hopefully this letter helps ease the pain and explain why some people haven't been terribly friendly towards the caretakers and fans of what were once the Winnipeg Jets.
An open letter to Phoenix Coyotes Fans,
When the original Winnipeg Jets left town, a certain gloom settled on the city. It was a stab to the psyche of the population. Suddenly, Winnipeg was off the map, we weren’t "big-time" anymore. People were, understandably, angry – at politicians who dragged their feet on an arena deal, team owners who wouldn’t put up money for an arena and took the team south, Gary Bettman for allowing all of this to happen, greedy players who were driving up salaries. There was no shortage of targets.
When the Jets were rechristened the Phoenix Coyotes, most Winnipeggers were quick to list them as their most hated team. That was "our" team, that had been snatched from us. Those were "our" players – players we’d watched for years, had watched develop, were looking forward to seeing win something. The hate came easily.
Time wore on and the wound closed for most Winnipeggers. A new (primarily privately funded) arena went up, an AHL franchise came to town – it wasn’t the NHL, but it was good hockey in a good barn, with both future and past NHL players making stops along the way.
We never really took our eyes off "our" team, though. We looked at the
Jets Coyotes, and hoped. Hoped for success to mirror that of the Quebec Nordiques after their move to Colorado. To see "our" players lift the Stanley Cup and know that we, as fans, were – peripherally, at least – part of that victory.
Instead, Jets fans saw their team beaten, battered, and bruised. Playing in front of half-empty arenas, advancing past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in 2012. Bleeding money, the team parted ways with players who were fan favorites in Winnipeg – with minimal return to the team. It was depressing to watch what many had come to think of as "our team", be subjected to such treatment. Fans in Winnipeg wanted more for their team. If fans had to lose the Jets, better to have them go on to be winners, than languish as a laughingstock.
The Phoenix franchise bled money. At last report, even after the city of Glendale chipped in $25 million, losses were still in the area of $10-15 million annually. Jerry Moyes (who became the team's third owner in 2005) eventually filed for bankruptcy in 2009. The gong show had officially begun, and is only now looking to be reaching an end point. Greg Jamison has missed his deadline to accept a sweetheart lease agreement for the Jobing.com arena. This will almost certainly spell the end of attempts to keep the team in Phoenix – barring an angel bearing sacks of cash and a willingness to lose sizable portions of it. The lease agreement is all but lost as the new council in Glendale has stated opposition to spending such sums on a team when they are facing their own budget crunch. If Greg Jamison couldn’t muster investors with that $15 million carrot dangling in front of them, what luck will anyone else have?
With a whimper, then, and not a bang, the Phoenix Coyotes will go into that dark night. For the remaining – though scarce – Coyotes fans, it will be a blow. Winnipeggers know the pain of losing a team. We know it well, and many of us sympathize with your plight. We lost our one major team once. People in Phoenix still have NBA, NFL and MLB teams to prop up their psyche. There was no such support here in 1996 when the team finished the year. Life will go on. Maybe Phoenix will rededicate themselves to getting a team back – bring in an AHL franchise, grow a fanbase, engage with a community that, though small, has been bringing the game of hockey to the desert. Show that hockey can work in Phoenix, and that the NHL needs to be in Phoenix – not simply because there are a lot of people there, but because there are enough hockey fans willing to fill an arena 41 nights a years.