University of Calgary

Unrelenting Athletes

Submitted by alumni on Sat, 05/31/2014 - 09:07.

Unrelenting Athletes

How a group of alumni helped buy the Phoenix Coyotes for a cool US$170-million.
by Jeff MacKinnin | Illustration by Travis Sengaus

L-R: Craig Stewart, George Gosbee, W. David Duckett.

Buying the Phoenix Coyotes was a 'Dream come True'
At the core of this ownership odyssey is a group of alumni

Calgary is known as the place where big deals happen. That includes one by a group of University of Calgary alumni in the summer of 2013 that saved hockey for a collection of hockey-loving Americans and Canadian expats down in Arizona.

Three high-profile and extremely successful graduates from different eras joined forces to buy the National Hockey League’s Phoenix Coyotes for a cool US$170 million. One was a former professional hockey player, the others grew up as fans of the game.

Led by AltaCorp Capital founder George Gosbee, BComm’93, the group of nine owners includes RMP Energy executive chairman Craig Stewart, BA’76, who was a member of the University of Calgary Dinos hockey team from 1972-76.

Plus, well-known 30-year oil and gas executive W. David Duckett, BComm’78, who is currently president of Plains Midstream Canada. Another University of Calgary graduate heavily involved in oil and gas, Remvest Energy Partners founder Avik Dey, BComm’99, was brought in to help sort through the details and is currently the Coyotes’ chief financial officer.

If you are at a Coyotes game the same time as Gosbee and the other Calgarians, you might just spot them.

“We go to the games and sit in the stands and interact with the players and we’re tight with management. But all of that has more to do with us being passionate about the sport,” says Gosbee, 44, who also chairs the Advisory Council to the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy and won the 2009 Management Alumni Excellence (MAX) Award, from the Haskayne School of Business. “At the same time, we’re cognizant of making sure it’s a good business and following our business plan.”

Forming Partnerships

Gosbee is the Coyotes’ executive chairman and governor. He put the deal together by calling on men he knew through his business dealings in oil and gas — some of these connections were formed while still at university. Stewart is director, alternate governor and co-owner, and Duckett is director and co-owner.

“I’ve known Craig in [the] energy business for 20 years,” says Gosbee. “I had actually taken a couple of [Haskayne School of Business petroleum land management] courses, and one of the guest lecturers was Dave. So he actually taught me gas marketing.

“I put the group together and then asked Dave to come into the deal.”

Gosbee believes the connection between Haskayne and the business community in downtown Calgary was invaluable to his development.

“I loved the interaction between the corporate community and the school,” he says. “So it was real easy to make the connection from school to downtown Calgary. It was perfect.”

A Player's Perspective

Stewart added a player’s perspective to the group. He was a member of the University of Calgary Dinos hockey team from 1972-76. He attended training camp with the NHL’s Washington Capitals in 1973, but opted to return to school to study economics instead of accepting a spot in the minor leagues. Stewart also spent a season playing professionally in Germany in 1979-80 before jumping into business.

Gosbee first looked into NHL ownership in 2006, but says it didn’t make solid financial sense at the time. It’s not hard to find people who say purchasing the Coyotes doesn’t either.

Gosbee’s group secured an opt-out clause, allowing them to move the Coyotes, after five years, if major losses persist.

But with a commitment to make hockey work in the area, and each of the three Calgarians owning vacation homes in the Phoenix/Scottsdale vicinity, moving the Coyotes is something they don’t want to do.

The Road to Success

Previous owner Jerry Moyes, who was the second businessman to try to make hockey succeed in Arizona, steered the team into bankruptcy in 2009. The NHL took over and had been looking for a suitable buyer for four years, before Gosbee came forward.

“It’s a very passionate group of guys and strong group of business guys involved in this,” Stewart says. “Collectively, we’re going to make better decisions, as opposed to having just one owner.”

The Gosbee group brings something to the table that the two previous managing owners in Phoenix did not — the love and knowledge of hockey that melds well with their business acumen.