They will play the next three seasons in the new 5,000-seat Mullett Arena on Arizona State University’s campus while simultaneously negotiating the terms of a $1.7 billion arena and entertainment complex with the city of Tempe.
The college-sized arena isn’t scaring away fans. Each of this season’s 41 home games are expected to be sold out, with tickets at the average NHL price of $165, Coyotes president Xavier Gutierrez told Sportico in a recent interview. That’s a 50% increase in ticket plan revenue from this point last season, when the Coyotes were playing at the former Gila River Arena across the Valley in Glendale, Ariz.
Even at a higher average price, tickets have been swept up quickly, with the club leaving about 500-700 for single-game purchase, Gutierrez said. The Coyotes averaged 11,602 last season in the old arena, 30th among the NHL’s 32 teams, at about $45 an average ticket price.
At the same time, the deal for the projected entertainment complex located about a mile west of the new ASU facility is progressing toward another meeting of the Tempe City Council and a vote to affirm the project by the end of this calendar year.
“Literally the city staff and my staff are all meeting right now,” Gutierrez said while looking down at his phone. “We’re anticipating a vote sometime in this fall. Obviously, we don’t have any control of it.”
Earlier this year, the council voted 5-2 in favor of moving forward and negotiating.
Thus far, the Coyotes have spent $30 million, Gutierrez said, to expand their practice facility at Ice Den Scottsdale, temporarily move team office to the east side of the Valley, and construct a training and clubhouse annex adjacent to the ASU arena that won’t be completed until December.
They’ve also added some amenities to the new arena dictated by the league to make it NHL-ready. The most distant seat is 13 rows from the ice.
If the entertainment complex is approved and moves forward, an arena, practice facility and team offices will all open in Tempe perhaps as early as 2025. Upon approval it will take eight months to a year to complete environmental mitigation on the 46-acre parcel of public land that has been a trash landfill site.
The annex will be donated to the university at the time of that relocation.
Tim Leiweke, the chief executive of the Oak View Group, a financial partner and operator of the new ASU arena, has been working with Gutierrez on marketing programs, something the club didn’t have in Glendale.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman praised Oak View this year during his state of the game media conference in Denver at the Stanley Cup Final.
“The Oak View Group has been a very constructive force on new facilities,” he said of the organization, which has helped build UBS Arena in New York, reconstruct Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, and is completing a facility for the Seattle Kraken’s minor league affiliate in the Palm Desert, Calif.
“They’re managing the ASU arena and selling for us as well,” he said. “It gives access to all the assets in that arena. We didn’t have that.”
While the finishing touches are applied on Mullett, the Coyotes will be vagabonds, playing their entire seven-game exhibition schedule and 20 of their first 24 regular-season games on the road.
They open with six games on the road, play four at home using temporary locker room facilities from Oct. 28-Nov. 3, and then 10 more away games before settling in for good on Dec. 9.
Coyotes second-year coach André Tourigny won’t use the scheduling as an excuse. “People are saying we’re going to be traveling a lot this year, but that’s not the case,” Tourigny said after the Coyotes lost 3-2 to the Anaheim Ducks Sunday in Tucson. “As far as I know we play 41 games on the road every [season]. That won’t be any different. It’s just the way the schedule has been built.”
That exhibition game is the only NHL contest in Arizona in the first five weeks of the preseason and regular-season schedule. But it will lead to 38 of the Coyotes’ final 58 games in the cozy confines of the new arena.
The most recent comparison is the plight of last season’s Islanders, who opened with 13 games on the road before the completion of the UBS Arena at Belmont Park. The Islanders went 5-6 with an additional two overtime losses, putting them in a hole from which they never emerged and missed the playoffs.
The Coyotes, coming off a 50-loss, 57-point 2021-22 season, have no illusions about this season. They tanked last season in an attempt to build for the future with draft picks, landing the No. 3 pick in the most recent lottery. The team also had three in the first round of the draft, four more in the second round and 10 overall.
With their top pick, they chose Logan Cooley, a center who’s targeted to play college hockey this season for the University of Minnesota.
The plan this season is for the Coyotes to shoot low again on the ice and high in the draft. The 2023 draft is expected to be a rich one with the top prize center Connor Bedard, who—like Sidney Crosby, Austin Matthews, Cale Makar and Connor McDavid—is projected as a generational player.
Right now, Arizona has nine picks in the 2023 draft, including their own No. 1 and three in the third round. Expect that to change as general manager Bill Armstrong continues to wheel and deal with his NHL cohorts.
Leiweke noted the difference from prior versions of the Coyotes, where it was always about year-to-year survival. “Bill’s doing a hell of a job, planning for the future on the ice,” he said. “He’s doing the right thing. In three years, this is going to be fun team to watch.”
Meanwhile, on the business side, he said: “The fact is, they decided to put a flag down in a part of the valley that’s favorable to their demographics and were brave enough to say it wasn’t going to work out where they were. Let’s see how this plays out.”