Will the Arizona Coyotes move to Utah? Here's what we know

The Arizona Coyotes face off — on the ice — for the last time on Wednesday. But off the ice, rumors are swirling about face-offs of the political and economic kind over where, or if, the team will play next season.

If the strongest rumors are true, Coyotes players will pack their bags and move to Salt Lake City once they wrap their season in the Valley.

The team and the National Hockey League aren't talking yet, but Salt Lake City and a prospective owner hungry for a franchise are rolling out the red carpet. Multiple outlets have reported that Coyotes players were told over the weekend of a potential relocation.

The NHL did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday. Its board of governors would have to approve any ownership change or team relocation.

The potential departure has raised myriad questions. What happens next to the team? Is the land auction and arena in northeast Phoenix still moving forward? What are city officials from Phoenix, Tempe and Glendale saying?

Here's what we know.

What is happening to the Coyotes?

The Coyotes likely will be sold to billionaire Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith, and the deal will guarantee owner Alex Meruelo an expansion team if a new arena is built in Arizona within five years, the Associated Press reported Saturday, quoting an unnamed source.

The deal would transfer the franchise’s hockey operations first to the NHL and then to Smith, who plans to move the team to Salt Lake City, the AP reported.

Meruelo would maintain business operations and move forward in his attempt to buy state land and build an arena and entertainment district in northeast Phoenix, the AP said.

Gila River Arena, home of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, is a multi-purpose entertainment arena located at Loop 101 and Glendale Avenue. The arena anchors the 223-acre, $1 billion development Westgate Entertainment District. The Coyotes will play their last year there this year.
Gila River Arena, home of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, is a multi-purpose entertainment arena located at Loop 101 and Glendale Avenue. The arena anchors the 223-acre, $1 billion development Westgate Entertainment District. The Coyotes will play their last year there this year.

The NHL last approved an expansion for the Las Vegas franchise, the Golden Knights, in 2016, according to the NHL website.

The Arizona Republic was the first to report that Meruelo and Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego have a meeting scheduled for later this month to discuss Meruelo's intent to build a new arena in northeast Phoenix.

The meeting bolsters rumors that Arizona might get a new team in the future.

Is the NHL supporting the deal?

The NHL did not immediately respond to questions sent Monday. Sportico reported Monday that the NHL Executive Team has approved the Coyotes' move to Salt Lake.

Departure speculation sends ticket prices soaring

Ticket prices for the Arizona Coyotes' last match in Tempe on Wednesday are skyrocketing, as resellers cash in on the NHL team’s recent announcement to leave the Valley. For individuals looking to attend, tickets via the Coyotes website range in price from $597 to $2,100.

Tickets for two seats next to each other range from $625 to $10,000.

Arizona Coyotes rookie Logan Cooley, President & CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez, GM Bill Armstrong, and head coach André Tourigny (right) visit with fans during media day at Ice Den Scottsdale on Sept. 12, 2023.
Arizona Coyotes rookie Logan Cooley, President & CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez, GM Bill Armstrong, and head coach André Tourigny (right) visit with fans during media day at Ice Den Scottsdale on Sept. 12, 2023.

Have the Coyotes said anything official yet?

The team posted a statement to X on Saturday, which declined comment but committed to some sort of announcement in the future.

Coyotes CEO Xavier Gutierrez declined to comment Monday.

Why does Ryan Smith, Utah Jazz owner, want a team in Salt Lake City?

Ryan Smith, 45, purchased the Utah Jazz basketball team in 2020. The Athletic has reported that Smith has a "genuine affection" for hockey. He played roller hockey as a teenager and went to IHL games with his family.

Smith has previously said Utah has a hockey scene, but not yet at the level of the NHL.

What about the state land auction?

The auction is still on for June 27.

Meruelo went through the process outlined in state law to put up for auction roughly 100 acres of land at the northwest corner of Loop 101 and Scottsdale Road.

Meruelo did so in the name of Miracle Development LLC, an affiliate of his company Bluebird Development.

The auction will proceed as scheduled, according to Lynn Córdova, spokesperson for the Arizona State Land Department.

The proceeds from the sale benefit public education in the state, and bidding starts at $68.5 million.

Coyotes fans sing during the second period of the Coyotes' home opener against the Anaheim Ducks at Mullett Arena on Oct. 21, 2023, in Tempe.
Coyotes fans sing during the second period of the Coyotes' home opener against the Anaheim Ducks at Mullett Arena on Oct. 21, 2023, in Tempe.

What does the governor's office say?

The Governor’s Office did not receive any notice of the team’s potential move as of last week, according to a spokesperson for Gov. Katie Hobbs. The spokesperson, Christian Slater, declined to comment further.

Hobbs has once previously met with team leadership about the Coyotes’ future. Gutierrez said that conversation was initiated by the Governor’s Office and Hobbs “expressed a real strong desire to continue to have the Coyotes be here in Arizona.”

Hobbs’ office declined to discuss the nature of her meeting with Gutierrez. Her chief of staff, Chad Campbell, was a lobbyist for the team immediately prior to joining the Hobbs administration, and his discussions with team leadership have raised ethical flags.

What are Phoenix officials saying?

The mayor declined to comment Monday. Her spokesperson, Arielle Devorah, confirmed that Meruelo and Gallego have a meeting scheduled for later this month.

Councilman Jim Waring, whose district the potential arena would be located in, expressed mostly bewilderment Monday.

“I was confused by the reports that the team was moving forward on bidding for the state trust land parcel but at the same time there were credible reports they were moving the team. If the plan is to have an expansion team in a few years, then that mystery is solved. But the same reaction remains for me: Until they are the winning bidder for the property at auction, it’s hard to move forward crafting an agreement."

Meruelo's letters to the mayor expressed interest in the city establishing a special taxing district to help fund the construction of the arena.

Tempe leaders blast Coyotes 'shameful' treatment of fans

It was just last year that the Coyotes were trying to build a $2.1 billion arena and sports entertainment district in Tempe. But voters rejected the proposal in the May 2023 election.

Tempe City Councilmember and Coyotes fan Randy Keating said the NHL franchise’s owners “strung along” fans about their future in the state even as they knew about the planned move to Utah. “The way they treated the fans was shameful.”

“This breaks my heart. The #Yotes fan base deserved so much better than to be strung along like they were,” he tweeted on Saturday. “Here’s hoping an expansion team indeed comes (to Arizona), to an ownership group that deserved it. We fans certainly do.”

How pivotal was Tempe's no-vote to the Coyotes future in Arizona?

Keating blames the Coyotes’ ineffective and slow-starting political campaign, which he believes ultimately sealed the team's fate in Arizona.

“They ran a terribly inept campaign,” he told The Republic. “I think losing in Tempe was what killed it. After that, there's really nowhere to go. They looked at some other places and didn't find anything else.”

Tempe Mayor Corey Woods said that “the case was not made to residents as to why (the project) was a necessary thing or something that would enhance the city.”

Woods thinks that media stories about the Coyotes’ rocky tenure in Glendale and certain less flattering aspects of their proposal “gave people some pause” at the ballot box in Tempe. He also pointed to a general trend in public opposition to professional sports stadiums nationwide.

Taxpayers have been more than generous in the long-running Coyotes stadium saga.
Taxpayers have been more than generous in the long-running Coyotes stadium saga.

How much would the Coyotes leaving be an economic blow to Arizona?

It's not yet clear. It will take time and an economic impact analysis to know the full extent of what the team's departure will cost Arizona, but economists agree there will be some type of fiscal loss.

Dennis Hoffman, who directs Arizona State University’s Seidman Research Center, was commissioned last year by the Coyotes to analyze the economic impact of the team moving to Tempe.

He found the deal was an economic boon for the city. Now, he said the Coyotes’ departure could hurt Arizona’s economy for three reasons:

  • Canadian snowbirds choosing to vacation in other warm states with NHL teams.

  • The loss of the roughly $200 million in revenue he expected the Coyotes would generate, plus the broader economic activity that initial income drove.

  • The loss of spending and taxes from Coyotes' employees.

Hoffman said the scope of the snowbird effect was unknowable, "but I think it does a disservice if we just say we'll ignore it.”

His institute also estimated that the Coyotes would have brought in about $200 million in revenue each year, plus a much larger economic indirect benefit from the “knock-on effect.” Each dollar spent with the team is re-spent and re-taxed several times in Arizona before it leaves the state, he said.

Coyotes players pay about $2.5 million in state income taxes and an untold amount in total spending inside of Arizona.

“They're taxed where they play their games. So, you take all the payrolls of the NHL and all of the times they play here in Arizona. That goes to state taxes here in Arizona. So that's gone now. That is gone,” Hoffman said.

Glendale reacts: City 'swiped left' on Coyotes after 'fractured relationship'

The Coyotes played at the Gila River Arena in Glendale for 18 years before the city cut ties with the team in 2021.

City Manager Kevin Phelps ended negotiations for a new lease after learning the team was looking at land in Tempe for a new venue but said the decision was about finding "more impactful" events for the arena.

The team and city long had a fractured relationship. Former Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs accused the team of not appreciating its Glendale deal and location, and said the city probably had "one slap in the face too many" before giving them the boot. Their icy relationship led to a very public and messy split in 2022.

On Monday, Glendale officials offered mixed reactions to the latest news.

Glendale Councilmember Ray Malnar said he was happy to see there was interest elsewhere to invest in the Coyotes.

“Obviously, the voters in Arizona, the business community, weren’t interested in investing a lot of money into the franchise,” Malnar said. “And therefore, the move, I think, will be good for the franchise and provide them an opportunity to improve their team.”

In a prepared statement, Councilmember Lauren Tolmachoff called the news of the team’s move a “sad time for Coyotes fans and the people that work for the organization.”

“We were always looking for a long-term relationship, but the league and the most recent owners have wanted nothing more than a friends-with-benefits relationship,” Councilmember Bart Turner said. “So, two years ago we swiped left, and it seems like all their other potential suitors in the city have swiped left as well.”

Councilmember Joyce Clark took to her personal blog where she called the move “inevitable.”

“Leaving Glendale was the beginning of the end,” she wrote, before disparaging Meruelo for sending the team “down this path with his arrogance and stubbornness.”

“He could have and should have been more reasonable and negotiated a deal in Glendale that was mutually beneficial to the city and to the team,” Clark added.

Staff with Mayor Jerry Weiers’ office did not respond to a request for comment and City Manager Phelps was not immediately available.

What will happen to Coyotes gear? Will there be a run on it?

Kevin Schultz, founder of Vintage Ice Hockey, an apparel and merchandise dealer that sells items from teams that have ceased operations, said he does not expect the market to change immediately for Coyotes gear.

NHL teams produce a lot of merchandise, he said, so there will still be a supply of gear. There could be a short-term spike in prices of people looking to get something before the team moves, but items will not become much more valuable in the short term.

Game-used merchandise, like jerseys and other things valued by collectors, could see a run on prices, he said, because those items will be more limited.

In the long term, Schultz said, the value of the merchandise will depend on fans’ overall sentiments of the team.

The Hartford Whalers, which relocated to North Carolina in 1997, still has a strong following, and people like the gear for the unique logo and design. The Atlanta Thrashers, which moved to Winnipeg in 2011, seem to be less sought-after, he said. The team was shorter-lived than the Whalers and did not have the same following.

What do fans think?

Nick Bastian is a relator from Tempe and publicly advocated for the Coyotes' proposed arena that was denied by Tempe voters last year.

"My entire life I liked that we had all the major teams, and I think it's unfortunate that it looks like we're going to lose one, and I'm hopeful that maybe they'll be able to bring something back one day," Bastian said.

Danny Schultz, a lifetime hockey and Coyotes fan alike, said the team's biggest mistake was moving to Glendale from its initial Phoenix location.

The lifetime fan was unsure if he would continue to watch the team and that it was dependent on if the games would be available to watch on TV.

Reporters Taylor Seely, Stacey Barchenger, Sam Kmack, Corina Vanek, Shawn Raymundo, Lux Butler, Rey Covarrubias Jr. and Michelle Cruz contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: What you need to know about the Arizona Coyotes: Latest updates