Arizona Coyotes president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc is confident his team may have some kind of announcement on a new home in the Phoenix area by the end of the NHL’s regular season.
LeBlanc indicated the location could be in the East Valley, where he said a lot of the team’s fans are located.
“Like any business you look at heat maps of a geography of where our fan base is and for us we look at where people who are attached to hockey are. It tends to be on the east side of the Valley, which is Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa and Scottsdale,” LeBlanc said. “One of the things we’ve been pretty open about as have they is we’ve had deep discussions with Arizona State University. There are so many natural synergies with ASU especially since they’ve moved to a Division One (hockey) program.”
The Coyotes’ relationship with the city of Glendale, where they currently play, has been contentious. The city and the Coyotes came to a two-year lease agreement for Gila River Arena last summer, after Glendale voted to terminate the team’s prior lease via a special vote. During the summer of 2013, the Coyotes and Glendale came to a 15-year $225 million lease agreement.
Last year, Glendale said it was going to entertain other offers to manage the arena, meaning the Coyotes would not do so. The team was not pleased with the development. Recently Glendale announced AEG would manage the arena.The Coyotes started play in Glendale during the 2003-04 season.
“Our view, and the commissioner shares this, if we can get a new arena in the right location this should be one of the, going from where we are now where we’re in the bottom-10 of the league in regards to league revenues, it’s a strong expectation we can get to the midpoint if we can get this franchise into the right location,” LeBlanc said. “It was pretty easy to see, by just talking to our fan base that they wanted to see us on the east side of the Valley. Now that’s not exclusive. We do have some great fans that live in the West Valley. But the majority of our fan base tends to travel and during the week it’s not easy getting out to Glendale.”
The Coyotes continue to insist that they’re stable in the Phoenix area. Unlike years past when they put effort into staying in the market, they’re now aggressively pushing to add more young fans. It’s a different approach for the team and one that could have a long-term impact on the team’s health.
In three games this month, the Coyotes will give replica jerseys for children, up to the age of 14, if their parent turns in a jersey of another team. This is to take advantage of the area’s large transplant population. The Coyotes did one of these trade-ins on Friday night against the Calgary Flames and will do others – against the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 15 and the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 20.
The old jerseys will be given to the organization “Defending The Blue Line” an organization that helps military members play hockey.
While the Coyotes embrace the area's transplants, they know a way to become successful, along with getting a new building, is by seeing the children of transplants embrace their team. It’s an issue that’s present in just a small group of NHL markets.
“We played the Blackhawks last week. There were quite a few Blackhawks fans here. When I see adults wearing Blackhawks jerseys in our arena here it doesn’t really bother me because I knew that’s where they grew up and I know they’re hardwired that way,” said Coyotes chief marketing officer John Pierce. “But when I see their kids in a Blackhawks jersey, I literally want to flip out I literally lose my mind because that can’t happen.”
According to USA Hockey’s website, membership in Arizona has gone up from 4,860 in 2013-14 to 7,329 in 2014-15.
“When we did the rebranding of the team in the offseason, we talked about the importance of getting kids interested and involved,” Pierce said.
The Coyotes said they’ve picked the brains of other teams in non-traditional markets with transplants like the San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators to see how they’ve tapped into the youth fan base.
“One of the things I really love about this league is obviously we’re ultra-competitive on the ice, it’s not like the GMs are sharing tips and tricks, but on the business side it’s all about sharing best practices,” LeBlanc said.
But all those places have a stable arena situations anchoring vibrant downtowns. The Coyotes do not, which had made trying to market their future to youths more difficult.
What’s worse for a young fan than to latch onto a team, only to see it move? LeBlanc is hopeful this won’t be an issue anymore once the team can figure out a way to move to a new spot in the Phoenix area.
“I’d say over the summer when we were putting the plans together it certainly wasn’t the right time to be out talking about the future of the sport. Unfortunately Glendale’s actions put everything into disarray,” LeBlanc said. “There’s a silver lining to that one because what happened with Glendale proved with what I think with a fair degree of finality that we have no interest in leaving the market. We could have if we wanted to this summer and we went the other way and obviously now it’s not a secret that we’re in advanced discussions with governmental agencies or governmental cities or what have you about a possible new arena in the East Valley and we think that is progressing faster than anybody expected.”
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