Anthony LeBlanc stayed the course even when his goal seemed impossible to reach. Four years and thousands of airline miles later, he's finally putting his big plan in motion to turn the Phoenix Coyotes into the type of first-rate and profitable NHL franchise he always believed it could be.
Once his immigration paperwork goes through, LeBlanc will add President and CEO to a title that already includes Alternate Governor of the Coyotes. He plans to move to the Phoenix area full-time and recently gave up his season tickets to the Ottawa Senators.
He's all in.
"I'm a Canadian kid, and being involved with the NHL is something that the average Canadian boy would do anything he can to be a part of," LeBlanc told NHL.com. "But from the moment we first started looking at this franchise four years ago, we were intrigued at the opportunity. We felt it was an asset that hadn't been managed properly on the business side, and we always felt Phoenix could absolutely be a hockey market."
The question is why -- as in why was LeBlanc so persistent in his efforts to be involved in owning the Coyotes, and why does he so staunchly believe in the market when the Coyotes have historically lost money and struggled to gain a major presence in the Valley of the Sun?
"Nobody seems to have a problem with the concept of certain non-traditional hockey markets being hockey markets like San Jose, Dallas and Los Angeles," LeBlanc said. "My view is if those markets can be considered hockey markets, Phoenix has something that those markets don't have, which is the sheer number of northerners that spend the winter months in the area. You don't get that in San Jose or Dallas.
"This was an intriguing opportunity (in 2009) and it's only become a better opportunity as the last four years have progressed for a number of factors: the improvement on the ice that the team has had; the improvements in the overall macroeconomics that so affected the region in '09 and are so much better now; and the League is so strong now that we just want to be a partner with it."
LeBlanc and business partner Daryl Jones first got involved in trying to buy the Coyotes from the NHL in July 2009. Their efforts failed then, so they attempted to be minority partners with Matthew Hulsizer, who also couldn't complete his deal to purchase the team. LeBlanc was counseling Greg Jamison until his attempt to buy the team fell through in January.
At that point he and Jones decided to "take one final run at this," LeBlanc said. Jones convinced Calgary businessman George Gosbee to jump on board and write the biggest check, and last week the three of them along with eight other investors that make up IceArizona Acquisition Co. LLC officially took over the franchise that has been held together by the League since former owner Jerry Moyes put it into bankruptcy four years ago.
Gosbee is the new Executive Chairman and Governor.
LeBlanc and his partners are already putting their message out into the community. Their slogan is "Here to Stay," and LeBlanc said they're attempting to partner with a local advertising agency on a franchise rebrand they want to have in place by next month.
He said they're not looking to change the uniforms or the logo (though the team will change its name to the Arizona Coyotes after the 2013-14 season). Instead, LeBlanc said the rebrand is about changing the culture and the attitude surrounding the franchise.
"It's time to stop apologizing for what's happened over the past four years," LeBlanc said. "It's a hard stop, a new beginning."
Part of the rebrand is overhauling the in-game experience at Jobing.com Arena.
"It's no disrespect, but the franchise was owned by the NHL for the past four years so it's not like they were putting the focus on how do we increase the points of presence on food and beverage and retail, how do we make the in-game entertainment more entertaining," he said. "We want to make it so when people show up for opening night on Oct. 3 they immediately walk in and say, 'Wow, we see a difference.' "
LeBlanc said he's aware some fans may be leery about jumping on board because included in IceArizona's deal to purchase the team is an out-clause that would allow the ownership group to break its 15-year lease at Jobing.com Arena and either move or sell the franchise in five years if its losses reach at least $50 million.
He said he fielded questions about the out-clause during an open house for season ticket holders and prospective season ticket holders last week, but once he explained that it would require IceArizona to lose a hard $50 million to trigger the out-clause, the fans were satisfied that it was not an issue.
"If anybody thinks that we got into this with the desire or hope to lose $50 million, they truly need to think about that," LeBlanc said. "Look, this is an investment and in any investment you try to protect yourself if things go completely wrong. We don't expect they will and that is not the reason we're getting involved with this franchise, but there has been historical losses and we have to protect ourselves at the end of the day."
He clearly doesn't envision a scenario in which he or his business partners will have to worry about that five years from now.
"This team is here to stay," LeBlanc said.
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer | Twitter: @drosennhl
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