Salt Lake? Houston? As Tempe shuts down arena proposal, courtship of Arizona Coyotes picks up

(Video by Daniel Pike/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – After the recent rejection of a new arena proposal in Tempe, neighboring states have picked up the pace in an attempt to lure the Coyotes away from Arizona.

The Coyotes are committed to playing only one more year at Mullet Arena and have no long-term plan in place while the organization’s remaining options shrink across the Valley. In May, Tempe votes rejected the $2.1 billion proposal for a 16,000-seat hockey area, 1,995 multi-family residential units, retail businesses and gambling hubs.

Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith has voiced interest in bringing the NHL to Salt Lake City, Utah, but he’s not the state’s only high-ranking public figure in support of the idea.

“We hear a lot of enthusiasm and please bring us a team (for) Salt Lakers and people in this region who are desperately excited to see the NHL make its debut here in Salt Lake City,” Salt Lake City mayor Erin Mendenhall told Cronkite News.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stated recently he would like to keep the Coyotes in Arizona because he views it as a good market. Contrary to Bettman’s desire, cities and ownership groups across the country are attempting to lure the team, with Houston, Atlanta and Kansas City reportedly interested in relocating the team.

If the Coyotes were to move to Salt Lake City, the impact on the hockey community across the state would be drastic. At the beginning of the year, there were 11 rinks and 16 sheets of ice across the state, stretching from Tucson to Flagstaff.

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Arizona hockey youth programs have been in the top five in USA Hockey statistics in terms of growth in the nation. In 2018, over 8,500 youth hockey players registered with USA Hockey.

At the collegiate level, Arizona State’s men’s hockey program continues to blossom. In 2014, the Sun Devils became Division I and made an appearance in the 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Hockey Tournament.

“Without that support, without that visual thing to shoot for the highest form of the art I guess, there aren’t going to be as many people inspired to play hockey,” PHNX reporter Craig Morgan said. “It is that simple I think. I think that the entire community will dwindle a bit and that’s sad to think.”

The organization has made a significant impact in Arizona since moving from Winnipeg in 1996. The Coyotes began playing at Footprint Center before moving to Glendale in 2003. After a turbulent relationship with the city of Glendale, the team moved to Tempe.

Sharing Mullett Arena with ASU’s hockey teams, the Coyotes never turned to the 5,000-seat venue as a long-term solution. The Coyotes and ASU agreed to a three-year deal with a mutual option for the 2025-26 NHL season.

A permanent option might be down the street in Mesa, a growing city with an ice rink and multiple skating and hockey programs. The abandoned 80-acre Fiesta Mall in downtown Mesa was closed in 2018 and remains unoccupied. The lack of foot traffic since the mall’s closure has left a void for surrounding businesses that could be solved by the Coyotes.

“Immediately, we would get so many more people. I am assuming the arena would be around 17,000 fans, plus the workers. So just the exposure that this area would get to that many people would be amazing for all the businesses over here,” local restaurant owner Dylan Roberts said.

While the team’s future remains in question with plenty of options on the table, Mendenhall’s message of support is clear.

“Get on the plane and support them here, we are not that far away,” the mayor said.

Daniel Pike dan-yul pike
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Daniel Pike expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism, a minor in history and a certificate in sports ethics and diversity. Pike is the station manager for Blaze Radio and an intern for KTAR News in Phoenix.