By: Nick Lanciani
Once again the Arizona Coyotes are at a crossroads. Every summer meets a new fork in the road for the team that just won’t give up on making ice in a sandy desert. With this off-season’s new tumultuous bringing, the Coyotes have plenty of options in what really should be considered a two-step plan. Step one- get out of Glendale. Step two, however, is unclear.
The Coyotes owners seem firm in their belief that they can do business in Arizona. Moreover, they believe they can remain in Glendale. The fact of the matter is that Glendale is unsustainable in its current state and will not get better. As the City of Phoenix begins to murmur about luring the Coyotes back to a new downtown arena, potentially to be shared with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, one thing is for sure- Arizona, as a state, is committed to their hockey team.
No, the Arizona Coyotes are not a failed experiment of the NHL by now- even in the face of millions of dollars in debt and a $200 million lawsuit between the Arizona Coyotes hockey club and the City of Glendale, Arizona.
What has failed was the move to the suburbs. Glendale is not an optimal location for fans traveling out of their way to catch the coolest game on Earth (pun intended).
Sporting organizations are always looking for ways to extend the product and/or make a profit. With the success of Patriot Place at Gillette Stadium for the NFL’s New England Patriots, teams in just about every other league- and even NASCAR- are vouching for suburban development of their own.
The MLB’s Atlanta Braves are heading for a suburban location and a sprawling complex of community and commercialization, aimed with a profit in mind, in the near future. Daytona International Speedway is constructing Daytona Rising- an entirely new experience for the International Speedway Corporation owned 2.5 mile superspeedway, set to redesign the grandstands and nearly all that surrounds them will be fully functional in 2016.
The point is to make money year round these days in professional sports (and not just to host fun events for patrons to attend). Even the Detroit Red Wings are moving into a new arena in 2017, set to revitalize Detroit, Michigan, with a money making complex in mind.
The Coyotes were simply too far ahead of the time to move to the suburbs without any substantial year round relevance in the planning, construction, and upkeep of Gila River Arena. In a sense, the Coyotes are like the Ottawa Senators and the Canadian Tire Centre. The Senators play in Kanata, Ontario- a suburb just outside of Ottawa- but there’s not much that is enticing around the arena, aside from what appears to be a relatively new looking strip mall down the street a ways. While there’s the potential advantage of tailgating before a big game, that culture isn’t apparent league-wide, especially without a place to stumble around from shop to shop before the gates open when the weather gets dreary. Even the Senators, though, are pushing for a downtown Ottawa location.
All of this talk of a miracle saving, downtown location, with year round profitability is great, but shops alone do not build a fanbase or assemble an everlasting affect on a region. While an ideal arena design in contemporary times incorporates the suburban neighborly feel, only the game alone can grow the game. And that’s an aspect that the Arizona Coyotes, surprisingly, did well.
We are only just starting to see the affects of hockey in the desert for a long period of time. A generation has now been born with the team in existence for their entire lives and hockey is on the rise. Perhaps sparked by the prominence of strong Californian hockey teams battling the recently weak Coyotes, an interest has taken hold of the Arizona audience. The 2012 Western Conference Finalists have a loyal fanbase. In Phoenix, the building was full because fans could get to the games with ease. In Glendale, fans couldn’t always make the journey, but they made other things happen- partly, the travesty of events that are unfolding now, but the blame is equally spread amongst the team, city, and fans that didn’t make the venture.
Arizona now holds two key pieces to the proof of the Arizona Coyotes success in the region, both in the current ACHA Division I Arizona State University hockey team (set to join a NCAA Division I ranking conference for the 2016- 2017 season) and 2016 NHL Entry Draft expected top overall pick, Auston Matthews.
Matthews was born in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1997- a year after the Coyotes moved to Phoenix. The 6’2”, nearly 200 pounds, center is a product of expansion and globalizing the game.
Hockey is for everyone. Anyone that can build a rink and maintain it, can produce some of the next stars of the game. I’m all for the league continuing their desert journey, with one exception- Las Vegas. The Vegas market doesn’t seem to have longevity with it. Then again, rivals in the desert could be enough to forge an imprint in the league.
Improper ownership failed the Coyotes. Too much league intervention failed the Coyotes. But maybe it was just enough, after all, to gain a vested interest from their current ownership (a 51%- 49% split between Philadelphia hedge-fund manager, Andrew Barroway, and IceArizona Acquisition Co., LLC, respectively). Barroway and IceArizona clearly see the commitment of the fans, even at one of the lowest of the lows in terms of the franchise’s on-ice play.
So the Coyotes are left with an ultimatum; agree to share a new arena in Phoenix, in a reunion of tenants with the Suns, or relocate. Given that a new arena, even with the best construction companies, would be at least a couple of years out and the uncertainty of their future in Glendale (it’s a toxic environment that they should absolutely leave) their best bet just might be relocation.
Arizona deserves a hockey team. But it might be too little, too late for this franchise to succeed in Arizona. A move out of Arizona wouldn’t look bad with the growth of the game that would be left behind. This franchise has to save itself from its current damaging model. It needs to go somewhere where it is properly loved for a change. The Coyotes are worn out.