Is Phoenix the Most Dysfunctional Sports Town in America?

Late last evening local media began reporting that Greg Jamison, the latest potential buyer for the Phoenix Coyotes was unable to complete the purchase of the team by the January 31st deadline set by the City of Glendale. This is just the latest in what has to be the longest running soap opera in professional sports. Even before the announcement Glendale elected officials were posturing to make sure everyone knew that their patience had run out and the likelihood of arena concessions were dimming by the moment. Ownership woes have been a part of this franchise for the past three years after former owner Jerry Moyes put the team in bankruptcy. The past three seasons the NHL has owned the team with the City of Glendale paying the league to keep the team afloat while a new owner could be found.
Arizona Sports LogosSeveral groups have attempted to buy the team but there always seems to be something that gets in the way. Jamison looked to be the most likely to finalize the deal with fans and industry insiders excited at the prospect. In the end though there was another missed deadline and it would seem the transaction may be back at square one since several in the City of Glendale asserting they are unwilling to extend the concessions the city made and may feel they are better financially without the hockey team. The never-ending hockey saga should be enough to question what kind of sports town Phoenix is but that is just one of several concurrent stories going on.
Next to Arena where the Coyotes play is the University of Phoenix Stadium home to the National Football League’s Arizona Cardinals. The football team finds themselves in an all to familiar situation. After leading the team to a Super Bowl in 2008 head coach Ken Whisenhunt was fired making this the ninth time the Cardinals have changed coaches since moving to Arizona in 1988. Part of the coaching carousel may be because the Cardinals have had only three winning seasons since coming to the desert. Inconsistency in draft strategies and the lack of having an adequate quarterback doomed Whisenhunt. Now Bruce Arians takes over with promises that the future looks bright. From a fan’s perspective this feels like déjà vu all over again.
It would be great to say only the football and hockey teams are the ones with issues but unfortunately that is not the case. In downtown Phoenix the National Basketball Association’s Phoenix Suns have also seen their fortunes and their fan base dwindle. Since buying the team from Jerry Colangelo in 2004, new owner Robert Sarver has been portrayed as driving the once proud franchise into the ground. Fans have seen draft picks sold for cash and players walk away or worse traded for questionable returns. Recently the Suns fired head coach Alvin Gentry (although it was reported that he left under mutual agreement) and replaced him with Lindsey Hunter a move that angered several assistant coaches leading to two of them leaving the organization. Only in Phoenix could the naming of an interim coach cause such turmoil.
A block away the Arizona Diamondbacks have public relations challenges of their own. After a disappointing 2012 season where the team finished 81-81 general manager Kevin Towers promised there would not be a knee-jerk reaction and that the team only lacked a piece or two to return to the success they had in 2011 when they won the division. Of course Towers words seem pretty hollow now as the Diamondbacks have brought in twelve new players this off-season and sent packing the face of the franchise, the longest tenured Diamondback player, and a top-10 pitching prospect for what looks like a dubious return. A large number of fans are up-in-arms about the trades which saw Justin Upton go to Atlanta making them a play-off favorite for Martin Prado and a handful of prospects that did not even make the top 100 in MLB’s latest ranking. Add to that sending potential ace Trevor Bauer for a light-hitting shortstop and sending Chris Young to Oakland for another light-hitting shortstop. At one point after the off-season moves the Diamondbacks had 3 of the top 15 shortstop prospects. I’m not sure that is necessarily a good thing. The Diamondbacks did sign Prado to a 4-year extension worth $40 million, a price that seems above market value.
In many markets these stories would have sports fans lining up for psychological therapy to keep them sane but in Arizona it’s all a day in the life of a fan. The fans in Arizona are much less passionate than in other areas in the country. Perhaps this is a result of the daily craziness or maybe the insanity is a result of the fans’ apathy.
Maybe we misunderstood what the Mayans were trying to tell us. Maybe instead of the world ending in 2012 what they meant was that Arizona professional sports is dying and there doesn’t seem to be much any of us can do to fix it and those who can don’t seem to be able to leaving us with a helpless feeling. The one bright side, the Phoenix sports market has become a dynasty in team drama. If they ever make this into a movie I want Lindsay Lohan to play the part of Phoenix.

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