There have been question marks about the Arizona Coyotes’ future in the state for years, but as of late, most thought the team’s long-term home would be in Tempe. Last night, however, voters emphatically denied plans for a new arena and entertainment district in the city to provide a home for the Coyotes, throwing the team’s geographical future into significant turmoil.
The team’s statement, released last night after the vote results were apparent, stopped short of offering any promise to keep the team in Arizona. It did say that the team’s future will be “evaluated by our owners and the National Hockey League over the coming weeks.”
In all likelihood, that means some form of relocation, given arena troubles in Arizona already have them playing in the under-5,000-seat capacity Mullett Arena at Arizona State University. If the team is to avoid moving out of the state, however, TSN’s Darren Dreger says that likely relies on involvement from the owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, Mat Ishbia.
Under previous ownership, any financial partnership between the Coyotes and Suns seemed unlikely. But after former owner Robert Sarver sold the team last year, spurred by his league suspension for racist and misogynistic behavior, it’s unclear what involvement Ishbia would be open to having in the Coyotes’ future.
As Dreger says, Ishbia purchasing the Coyotes from current majority owner Alex Meruelo and moving the team to the Suns’ downtown arena, the Footprint Center, is unlikely. The arena, Arizona’s original home after moving to Phoenix, included sightline issues so poor it was driving away fans (and later, guiding the team into bankruptcy) after less than 10 years in the city. The arena also underwent a second major renovation in the past few years, and it’s unlikely the City of Phoenix, which the Coyotes are currently suing, would financially support another renovation so soon.
One relocation option that Dreger speculates could work is Salt Lake City. The owner of the NBA’s Utah Jazz, Ryan Smith, has past expressed interest in bringing an NHL team to Utah, and it would keep the larger markets of Houston and Atlanta available for the NHL to collect expansion fees later on.
If this does happen, while there is no guarantee, it could be immediate. Bally Sports Midwest’s Andy Strickland says the league has not ruled out immediate relocation this offseason.
Salt Lake City has supported minor league hockey well. The Utah Grizzlies brand has existed there in some form since 1995, bouncing between the now-defunct IHL, AHL, and ECHL. In the 1996 IHL championship, the Grizzlies set a North American minor-pro attendance record with 17,381 fans. The game was played at the current home of the Jazz, Vivint Arena (then known as the Delta Center).
Dreger also says a last-ditch effort for the Coyotes to remain in Arizona could involve partnering with the Suns on a new building in downtown Phoenix. Again, considering the team’s pending multi-billion dollar suit against the city, it seems like an unlikely proposition.