SCOTTSDALE – The Arizona Coyotes keep knocking on doors to find their new home, and while no one has answered yet, the organization believes its latest stop will be the last one.
Arizona Coyotes CEO Xavier Gutierrez reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to finding a permanent location in Phoenix’s East Valley during Tuesday’s media day at the team’s practice facility in Scottsdale.
“We’re still committed to the East Valley,” Gutierrez said. “We think that is where a business like ours should be.”
The assurance to media members and fans comes just four months after Tempe voters rejected a proposal in May that would have allowed Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo to construct an arena and entertainment district along north Tempe’s Salt River bed on Priest Drive and Rio Salado Parkway.
“We’ve obviously had a number of setbacks, due in large part to continuation of undoing of decisions that have really undermined the financial viability of this organization for many years,” Gutierrez said of the club’s efforts to find a permanent home.
The Coyotes have been struggling to find a stable location for the team’s home games since the team moved to the Valley from Winnipeg in 1996. After seven full seasons sharing what is now labeled the Footprint Center with the Phoenix Suns, the team relocated to Glendale’s Desert Diamond Arena, where it began a tumultuous two-decade stint in the West Valley that featured multiple failed relocation attempts, a team bankruptcy and a frustrating relationship with the city of Glendale.
After the franchise’s lease with Desert Diamond Arena was terminated by the city of Glendale after the 2021-22 season, the Coyotes entered into an agreement with Arizona State University that allowed the club to play home games in the university’s newly constructed Mullett Arena through at least the 2024-25 season as it continues the search for a permanent home. The Coyotes begin their second season at Mullett Arena on Oct. 21 against the Anaheim Ducks.
In response to uncertainty off the ice, the Coyotes have established stability on it with contract extensions for coach André Tourigny and several of his assistants signed in August. General manager Bill Armstrong, who signed a multi-year contract extension last week, said the extensions were designed to reward performance and alleviate concerns due to the fluidity of the arena negotiations.
“What we didn’t want to happen with the noise of the, a little bit of the arena shilling around, and then everybody’s saying, ‘I’m not sure about my contract,’” Armstrong said. “We wanted to make sure that they were worried about one thing: doing their job and doing it well and not their contract.”
Gutierrez said the organization has “moved on” from the “disappointing” result in Tempe but emphasized that the Coyotes are still actively hunting for a long-term solution. The club is considering multiple sites, including a parcel of land at Alma School Road and the 101 freeway in Mesa, per the Phoenix Business Journal.
Arizona Sports radio host John Gambadoro first reported that the Coyotes were pursuing Mesa in August. The Coyotes released a statement shortly after confirming they had signed a letter of intent to purchase land in the city but noted that “the Club will continue to explore other potential sites in the East Valley.”
The team’s dedication to the East Valley stems from the region’s rapid population and corporate growth, Guterriez said, before identifying a target region that included North Scottsdale, Gilbert, Chandler and even Central Phoenix.
“This isn’t a reflection of the West Valley when I say this, but we’re in the live events business,” Gutierrez said. “Getting folks out there to the West Valley on a Tuesday, on a Wednesday, on a Thursday, it’s just really challenging.”
Gutierrez also cited record ticket revenue for the club’s first season at Mullett Arena as part of the logic for remaining in the East Valley. The record comes despite Mullett Arena having over 10,000 fewer seats available than the Coyotes’ former home in Glendale.
While reports are mixed over whether the Mullett Arena experience has overall been a financial success for the organization, the unique and intimate atmosphere of the arena has become a cultural phenomenon.
“We have corporate partners who, they showed up (to Mullett) a little bit incredulous,” Gutierrez said. “At the end of the season they’re like, ‘How do we become a part of it?’”
Through the turmoil, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has remained determined to keep the league in the Phoenix market. Gutierrez said he speaks with Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly weekly and that the two have expressed support for Meruelo and the Coyotes to continue their vision for the franchise. They have also set a midseason deadline for the Coyotes to finalize plans for a new arena.
Addressing recent relocation rumors involving cities like Salt Lake City and Houston, Gutierrez did not mince words.
“I think that was a narrative that was very false, that people don’t want this organization to be in their community (the Valley),” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”