GLENDALE – Alex Meruelo made history in July when he became the first Latino controlling owner in NHL history after he purchased the Arizona Coyotes.
He made more history on June 8 when he announced the hiring of Xavier A. Gutierrez to become the new CEO and President of the Coyotes, the first time a Latino would assume those positions for a franchise in the league.
Together they are determined to tap into Arizona’s Latino population and mobilize the community to become avid fans of the Coyotes.
“The Latino market is large here. … It is clearly a market we want to tap into,” said Gutierrez, who came aboard after the team parted ways with Ahron Cohen in May. “It wouldn’t make business sense not to approach them. We want to welcome all fans.”
The U.S. Census reports that 36.1 percent of the population in Arizona is Hispanic or Latino.
In September, the Coyotes launched three Spanish-language social media accounts in an effort to reach out to this market.
In 2016, 15% of Hispanic men ages 18 to 49 in Phoenix had attended more than one game in the preceding 12 months. Only one in 10 expressed interest in the sport, according to a study by the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Monica Villalobos, the President and CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, has been monitoring these stats and is excited for Gutierrez’s arrival.
“Right now, we know Arizona is tracking to be a minority majority state,” Villalobos said. “This is the growth market. Being able to attract the fan and consumer has to be the No. 1 mission for all sports franchises. When the NHL and the Coyotes are reaching out to Hispanics, it’s really understanding what a family sport this is. Being able to convey that to Hispanics will be critical.”
Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s 2019 DATOS report said Hispanic buying power in Arizona will reach $57 billion in 2022
“I have the utmost trust and confidence in Xavier to lead us forward and help the Coyotes become a world class organization,” Meruelo said in his statement. “I am confident we have one of the best leadership teams in all professional sports.”
Youth hockey has also grown exponentially. Arizona is the No. 3 state in growth with an 88% increase for boys and No. 1 for girls at a 152% increase, according to a 2019 report by USA Hockey.
“I have nephews who had hockey as their first sport in California because the (Los Angeles) Kings and the (Anaheim) Ducks reached out to them,” Gutierrez said. “They are rabid hockey fans. We see that and we want to replicate it here.”
The lack of success for the Coyotes on the ice is no secret. Though they were included in the 24 teams to be invited to the playoff to wrap up the 2019-20 season, the franchise had not reached the playoffs since the 2011-12 season and is still searching for its first Stanley Cup.
When Meruelo purchased the team a year ago, he made it clear he wanted to change that. Gutierrez echoed that excitement in his statement.
“I share Mr. Meruelo’s ultimate goal: to bring a Stanley Cup to the Valley of the Sun,” Gutierrez said. “I am incredibly passionate about this team and this fanbase.”
Gutierrez recognized Meruelo as a pioneer for making him the first Latino President and CEO in NHL history. Though he does recognize he has many hopeful eyeballs on him for the future, he also recognizes his hire isn’t just about him.
“For me, it’s not just about me,” Gutierrez said. “It’s about a lot of people who have opened doors. But it’s also about those who will come after us. There is a young child, whether he be Latino or not, who may have it in his mind: ‘I could run a sports franchise.’”
“I’m looking forward to it and I embrace it. I don’t see it as pressure because all we can do is do our best.”