Melting Under the Heat: The Problem With the Arizona Coyotes

The Arizona Coyotes are a franchise in the National Hockey League (NHL). Recently, the Coyotes announced that they would be moving their home arena to the Tempe arena, a venue with a mere 5000 seats. The team missed payments of over $250,000 to the city of Glendale as well as the state of Arizona and were forced to relocate home arenas in 2021. For reference, NHL arenas typically vary from 15,000-21,500 seats. The Coyotes were previously home to the 18,300 seat Gila River Arena in Glendale before their license expired. Throughout the previous years, the team averaged roughly 13,500 buyers per game or a dismal 76.6 percent attendance rate; on average, NHL teams report upwards of 90 percent attendance. The people of Arizona have been uninterested in the Coyotes during their time in Arizona. I feel that this move to the Tempe arena was a poorly made decision by the franchise and that a relocation to a more favorable city would have been more suitable. 

During the Coyotes’ time in the NHL, the franchise made many changes that led to where they are today. Starting in 1979, the team joined the league as the Winnipeg Jets after the World Hockey Association fell apart. After an embarrassing 17 year tenure riddled with losing seasons, the team relocated to Phoenix, Arizona in 1996 and was renamed to the Phoenix Coyotes. The team consistently made the playoffs yet fan attendance would only increase by roughly 5 percent. In hopes of sparking excitement, the team rebranded to the Arizona Coyotes in 2014 to better appeal to hockey fans across the state. Evidently, this was not much of a success with the team consistently residing in the lower attendance percentages across the league with an unimpressive range of 76.6-90.1 percent of the fans in attendance according to ESPN. The team has consistently had talent which is entertaining to watch. This year’s team hosts names such as Clayton Keller, Phil Kessel, and Shayne Gostisbehere. Despite this, it is clear that the Arizona area is uninterested in hockey and that a hockey franchise would be better suited in a different location. 

Even from a financial standpoint, this move to the Tempe arena was poorly judged. In the 2019-2020 season, the average ticket price of an Arizona Coyote game was $49.87. This cost put the team as the second cheapest average ticket price with the Florida Panthers beating them out with a cost of $37.19. Despite the low ticket prices, the franchise only reported an attendance rate of 90.1 percent, putting them in the bottom five teams in attendance rates that year. With the new venue holding a third of the previous arena’s seats, the team would not be able to sell tickets at this low cost and still hope to make money. The franchise would be forced to raise ticket prices which would in turn result in less attendance as the fans seem to be already unamused by hockey in Arizona. I feel that the narrative of ‘hockey in the desert’ should be put to rest in the case of the Coyotes and that the team should relocate in order to stop the bleeding. Fans alike have been begging the NHL to revive old teams such as the California Golden Seals, the Quebec Nordiques, or the Hartford Whalers. Personally, I feel that Canada and California already have plenty of hockey teams to root for and that a revival of the Hartford Whalers would be in the league’s best interests. Disregarding this, the Coyotes have locked themselves to the small 5,000 seat Arizona State University owned arena for at least the next three seasons starting in 2022. It will be interesting how this change pans out, but I do not expect the team to benefit from this move.