Coyotes Arena Issues Finally Solved?

The Arizona Coyotes’ seemingly eternal arena issues appear to finally be drawing to a close.

The team announced in a Monday afternoon press conference at Gila River Arena that they have entered into an exclusive negotiation agreement with Arizona State University that would result in the franchise moving into a brand-new, 16,000+ seat arena in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe that will be ready for the start of the 2019-20 season. While there has been no firm agreement to build the arena, the franchise is confident that it can get this project finalized in a timely manner.

Construction on the arena complex, which is projected to cost approximately $400 million, is tentatively scheduled to begin during the summer of 2017. Coyotes ownership has pledged that they will pay half of the cost of the arena, but the other half likely will have to come from the public.

The prospect of the Coyotes moving to the East Valley has been one that fans have been salivating over since the team’s bankruptcy in 2009. For years, the location of Gila River Arena in the West Valley suburb of Glendale has been cited as the reason for the team’s attendance troubles. Many outsiders have dismissed these claims as just another excuse, but these concerns do hold a fair amount of weight. The majority of Phoenix’s larger population centers, such as Scottsdale, Chandler, Mesa, and Gilbert, among others, are in the East Valley, and much of the Coyotes’ fanbase resides there as well.

On weeknights in Phoenix, many of the Valley’s east-to-west freeways and streets are reduced to parking lots during the evening rush hour as thousands of workers commute home from downtown Phoenix and its surrounding areas. The commute to the arena from some East Valley suburbs can take as long as two hours, and many fans living in these areas have been unenthusiastic about making the long trek to Glendale on a work night.

On the other hand, those who have to travel from west-to-east have a much easier time during evenings; most of the traffic is flowing away from Central Phoenix during the evening rush, which makes for a much easier commute for those who would be heading to a potential arena in Tempe.

A Fruitful Partnership

The Coyotes also announced on Monday that a separate multi-purpose arena with a capacity of approximately 4,000 will be built on the premises as well. The smaller venue will serve as the Coyotes’ primary practice facility and will also house the Arizona State Sun Devils hockey program, which currently plays most of its home games at Oceanside Ice Arena.

The Sun Devils just moved up to the NCAA Division I level last season after spending many years at the ACHA club level and have been playing some of their bigger games at Gila River Arena in an effort to draw more fans due to Oceanside’s small capacity. Playing in a big-time arena instead of in a local rink with a capacity of less than 800 should have a positive effect on the development of the ASU hockey program in terms of recruiting and marketing.

A partnership with Arizona State University would also have another positive effect for the Coyotes: the potential to tap into the ASU student body. ASU houses approximately 50,000 undergraduate students in Tempe and the Coyotes could easily tap into the Sun Devil student body with special discounts and deals to draw the college crowd to the arena. The Coyotes have had a Student Rush ticket promotion in place for many years, and have historically placed a high emphasis on getting younger fans out to games, so it definitely wouldn’t come as a surprise to see the team market itself heavily toward the under-25 crowd in the college town of Tempe.

The Tucson Roadrunners are currently marketing the team heavily toward students at the nearby University of Arizona, and the Coyotes could potentially use the lessons the Roadrunners will learn over the next few seasons in order to successfully market the team to the ASU student body when the arena opens in 2019.

Location, Location, Location

Along with being located near major population centers, the potential arena site is also located near numerous freeways; the Loop 101, Loop 202, I-10, US-60, and SR-87 freeways are all within four miles of the arena, and Sky Harbor International Airport lies less than five miles away as well.

In addition, the arena could potentially be served by public transportation in the future. The Valley METRO Light Rail train currently runs through the ASU campus to the southwest, and could potentially be extended northward to serve the arena. The train runs along a 27-mile track spanning from the Metrocenter shopping center in Central Phoenix all the way to the East Valley suburb of Mesa and serves a large part of the Phoenix area. Currently, the closest station lies a mile southward of the arena site, but expansions to the service have been made in recent years and could be made in Tempe to allow the train to better service the arena if the need arises.

The arena site also has no shortage of entertainment options nearby; the Tempe Marketplace dining and shopping center is located directly across McClintock Drive from the proposed site and houses many bars and restaurants for fans to visit before and after games. In addition, many nightlife options are also present on the famed Mill Avenue, which is just a short five-minute car ride to the west of the arena site.

Overall, the Coyotes’ exhaustive search for a new arena site that has been ongoing since the City of Glendale canceled the team’s 15-year lease in June 2015 has finally come to fruition in the Tempe concept. Assuming all goes well during negotiations over the next few months and the arena concept does indeed become reality, the franchise could finally be able to put nearly a decade of relocation rumors behind it and turn its focus toward its ultimate goal: bringing a Stanley Cup championship to the Valley of the Sun.