The NHL had a tough road ahead of them when they moved the Winnipeg Jets to Arizona. It is the 12th largest media market in the United States, but hockey in the desert is a tough sell. The sport isn’t endemic to the market and even with shifting demographics it was going to be a difficult sell. Hockey is a sport loved by diehards, but not followed by casual fans like basketball or football. The Coyotes have faced problems ranging from low ticket sales to bankruptcy and lease issues with the city of Glendale. Now they are asking for public funding for a new arena.
The team is hoping to construct a new arena in Tempe. This is only 13 years after their current home was built. That means the greater Phoenix area would have Gila River Arena — the Coyotes’ current home — Talking Stick Resort Arena — the Suns’ home court — and whatever the new hockey venue will be named in Tempe. Think about that. That is three separate arena in the greater Phoenix area. Los Angeles only has one! The Lakers, Clippers, and Kings all share a home venue. Phoenix would have three.
The expansion of the NHL into non-endemic markets was great in theory. It’s understandable why the NHL wanted to move into cities like Atlanta and Phoenix. Demographics and population trends showed it made sense. It might be time to pull the plug on the Arizona experiment. The Coyotes are reportedly asking for $400 million in public money for the new stadium. Unless this stadium hosts the Suns, Coyotes, and Arizona State sports, it doesn’t make sense.
The NHL just placed a team in Las Vegas so there is still a team in the desert southwest. There are multiple options for the NHL if it does decide to move the Coyotes. Seattle, Quebec City, and Hamilton are all possibilities that could work.
It’s doubtful that Arizona lawmakers and voters would pass a public funding option when the current situation is untenable. The NHL’s decision to move to Arizona made sense at the time. Now it is a sunk cost. The NHL has relocation options, and it’s time to start looking at them.