With Glendale’s decision not to renew the Arizona Coyotes lease for Gila River Arena after the 2021-2022 NHL season, a huge question arises: Where will the team play in 2022-2023 and beyond?
The Coyotes braintrust has never been totally shy about seeking a new facility closer to the eastern side of the Valley, whether it be Tempe or Scottsdale. Talks about sharing a new arena with Arizona State ended with the university seeking its own new arena. More recently the Coyotes were linked to an arena/entertainment district on a Tempe-owned parcel near Priest Drive and Rio Salado Parkway, west of downtown and the University of Arizona campus. The city has issued an RFP for site-development proposals, one that seems tailored for an arena project, and the deadline for bid submissions is now Sept. 2.
As a result, Glendale City Manager Kevin Phelps announced the city would not be renewing the Arizona Coyotes lease after months of talks about a long-term renewal. The city wanted to see the team stay, but with the interest in Tempe, the decision was made to not renew and instead focus on lower-key but potentially more lucrative events. Research commissioned by the city indicates concerts attract twice as much spending than do hockey games. But hockey is a volume event, and 20 or so concerts would need to be held to match in the impact of hockey. (The other question: are there enough touring acts out there with the capacity to generate those sorts of numbers, what with the downtown Suns arena and potentially State Farm Stadium also capable of hosting high-profile concerts.) The decision led to the following statement from Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez:
We are disappointed by today’s unilateral decision by the City of Glendale to break off negotiations on a multi-year lease extension agreement. We are hopeful that they will reconsider a move that would primarily damage the small businesses and hard-working citizens of Glendale. We remain open to restarting good-faith negotiations with the City.
“Most importantly, the Coyotes are one hundred percent committed to finding a long-term arena solution here in Arizona, and nothing will shake our determination to do what is right for our organization, residents of the entire Valley and, most important, our fans.”
Despite the rhetoric, the most likely course will be another yearly renewal for the Coyotes in Glendale: it will take a few years to design and build a new Tempe arena, but it will also take a year or so for Glendale and arena management ASM Global to come up with a game plan to replace hockey with 20 concerts and events attracting 10,000 or more fans. (No, no indication the team is leaving Phoenix. Sorry, Nordiques fans.) On the flip side, there really are not many options for the Coyotes. Renovations at Footprint Center make pro hockey at the Phoenix Suns home problematic at best (with owner Robert Sarver in the past rejecting sharing the arena with the Coyotes). Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which formerly hosted WHL and WHA hockey, would require a lot of work to accommodate hockey. At 5,000 seats, the new ASU arena would be too small, as would be Tucson Arena, at just under 9,000 seats.