Excerpted from "Coyotes Ugly," Phoenix Magazine, October 2012
Darcy Olsen is a casual hockey fan at best. Mention the term “crease violation,” and she will think of poorly-ironed slacks, not an errant attacker who wanders too close to the goal. Blue lines? Laser skin therapy will take those out.
So how is it that Olsen was named the 64th most influential person in the sport by The Hockey News on the publication’s yearly power list? The answer: by slapping down the Coyotes’ best shot yet at finding an owner. As president of the Goldwater Institute, Olsen was instrumental in scuttling a Glendale-subsidized ownership deal between the NHL and Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer last summer. For her efforts, Olsen won the ire of Senator John McCain, NHL President Gary Bettman and any number of Arizona hockey fans. But the big-government watchdog is unapologetic, which is why she finds herself just behind future-Hall of Fame Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom on The Hockey News list.
“Our biggest concern is to make sure [Glendale] constructs a deal that holds the taxpayer harmless,” Olsen says. “It’s not a conservative thing. It’s just good government.”
A toothless think tank the Goldwater Institute is not. Five years ago, the organization launched its own litigation center – i.e. ninja-lawyer squad – to further its Libertarian policy goals. So when Olsen threatens to sue, tax-revenue-spending officials listen.
Following the NHL’s seizure of the Coyotes in 2009, several prospective ownership groups flirted with the idea of buying the money-losing team (see boxes). Glendale finally thought they had a winner in early 2011, when Chicago investment manager Hulsizer put together an investment group that agreed to meet the NHL’s estimated $170 million asking price. The deal would be contingent on a hefty taxpayer-funded subsidy package from Glendale, estimated at $197 million over five years, to help defray the money that Hulsizer would inevitably lose running the team. No less a luminary than Senator John McCain, a Coyotes fan, helped proctor the deal, figuring – as many observers did – that the Hulsizer deal was Arizona’s last, best hope of keeping the Coyotes.
Enter Olsen and ninja Goldwater attorney Carrie Ann Sitren, who concluded that the deal ran afoul of the Arizona Constitution’s “gift clause,” which makes it illegal for any public entity to “give or loan its credit... by subsidy or otherwise” to private interests. The threat of Goldwater legal action was enough to ice the deal. According to Olsen, McCain, who publicly characterized her actions as “blackmail,” called personally to rag her out over the phone: “I said to him, ‘Senator, you’ve made this great career out of fighting pork in Washington. Why don’t you use your political capital to keep the Coyotes in town? Get your friends together, form your own group?’”
Olsen smiles at the memory of the conversation. “And he said: ‘Well, that wouldn’t be profitable.’ And I said: ‘That, Senator, is the problem with making taxpayers pay for it.’”
Though she understands the “added value” rationale of keeping the Coyotes in Glendale – the idea that the team generates foot traffic for nearby businesses and sustains a fusion reaction of restaurant sales and other retail activity – it’s based on a flawed presumption, Olsen believes.
“The most comprehensive meta-analysis over the last 50 years shows that stadiums and arenas don’t have a measurable impact on businesses,” she says. “It’s called the ‘substitution effect.’ People simply do their spending inside the stadium rather than elsewhere.”
Hulsizer walked away from the deal in June of 2011. Flush with another $25 million taxpayer infusion, the Coyotes stayed.