Is The Coyotes’ Saga in Arizona Drawing To A Close?

by | Aug 22, 2021 | Soapbox | 10 comments

The city of Glendale’s decision to opt-out of its lease agreement for Gila River Arena with the Arizona Coyotes prompted speculation about the club’s future among fans and pundits.

Some observers, including NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, think this is merely a bluff by the city of Glendale to secure a better lease agreement from the Coyotes. That doesn’t appear to be the case. After years of late or delinquent payments, the city council seems to have had enough.

Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo has explored constructing a new arena closer to downtown Phoenix for the past couple of years. There’s no indication the club is close to securing a viable location.

Barring a last-minute change of heart by Glendale’s city council, the Coyotes will be scrambling to find a new home for the 2022-23 season. Even if Meruelo finds a suitable spot for a new arena, it would take two or three seasons before it would be ready.

This is just the latest chapter in the long, sad saga of the Coyotes’ story since its original incarnation as the original Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix in 1996. A quarter-century of roster mismanagement, the move to Glendale, multiple owners, poor attendance and a culture of losing have turned this franchise into a league-wide laughingstock.

Despite the Coyotes’ woes, however, hockey is actually thriving in Arizona.

The Coyotes’ small but loyal fan base has stuck with the club through thick and mostly thin. The club has also played an ongoing role in sponsoring and developing youth hockey in the state.

A 2019 USA Hockey report revealed Arizona ranked second among all US NHL markets in total growth percentage of the sport over the previous five years. The state ranked first that year among those markets in girls eight and younger growth percentage, and girls 19 and younger youth growth percentage. It was also ranked third in total growth percentage in one year.

Arizona is also producing NHL talent, with Toronto Maple Leafs superstar Auston Matthews the state’s most well-recognized player. In 2020, reported Matthews was having a positive effect on youth hockey in the state. He’s inspiring a young generation of Arizona players.

Meanwhile, several former NHL players who have retired around Phoenix have taken up coaching youth hockey in the area. The only drawback to hockey’s rapid growth in the state is the lack of suitable ice facilities to accommodate the growing number of players.

Nevertheless, the Coyotes critics will point to the club’s soap-opera existence and years of low attendance as justification to relocate the team. Some suggest moving to Houston, Texas, where Tilman Fertitta, owner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, could still be keen to own an NHL franchise. Others propose a former NHL market such as Quebec City, or to a city such as Kansas City with an NHL-size arena.

Rest assured the NHL, led by commissioner Bettman, will pull out the stops to keep the Coyotes in Arizona just as it has since former owner Jerry Moyes put the team into bankruptcy in 2009.

Moyes hoped to sell the club to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, who wanted to relocate the franchise to Hamilton, Ontario. The league went to court to prevent it from happening. It has since done all it can since to keep the club in Arizona.

The main reason, of course, is the market size. The metropolitan area of Phoenix is the 10th largest in the United States with over 4.9 million people as of 2019, one the NHL doesn’t want to abandon.

Houston’s market is over 2 million larger but the NHL already has a franchise in Texas. While the state of Texas is big enough to support two NHL teams, the Dallas Stars might not be keen to have a rival on its patch potentially siphoning away fans and dollars.

While the Coyotes will have the league’s full support, the franchise could now be in more real danger of moving than at any time in its history. If Meruelo fails to find a suitable temporary local venue while a new arena is built (assuming one will be constructed), the Coyotes will be forced to play out of state while they await their new home.

Bettman indicated Meruelo remains committed to a new arena, but that could be easier said than done. An in-depth report earlier this year by The Athletic’s Katie Strang revealed financial woes were among several issues plaguing the club.

Construction of a new arena won’t be funded solely by the Coyotes. Meruelo will likely seek the financial support of local and state governments. Those discussions probably haven’t even started yet and could founder if public officials decline to pick up a hefty chunk of the tab.

The NHL carried the Coyotes for years but it can’t keep them in Arizona without a suitable arena. If that’s not coming within the next two or three years, the club’s much-anticipated relocation could become a reality.


  1. Gawd I hope so!

    • The reporting here is moronic, lazy & droning. I’d HATE ta break everyone’s hearts here whose cities are CRYING over having our Coyotes move to THEIR city, THEY’RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE. If the “reporter” here did their due diligence on a LOCAL level, instead of operating on Canadian sourcing, this LAUGHABLE “article” (like all the others) they’d have the RIGHT info regarding the Coyotes business at hand. The TRUTH IS: the NEW arena proposal in Tempe is simply a formality according to those working closest to the situation. The Coyotes were provided an additional 2 weeks to submit their proposal & more than likely WILL be passed. The TRUTH IS, the NEW arena will be 100% PRIVATELY FUNDED on 46 acres next to ASU. If it hadn’t been, this wouldn’t be the news that IT IS. The TRUTH IS, the Coyotes WILL REMAIN here in AZ in the interim at Arizona Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum (a la the Islanders) & move into their new arena once it’s completed. The TRUTH IS, the arena’s proposal HAS gained traction, which Glendale realised & has been in the works for some time now, which signals that is is only a formality & the Coyotes NEW home will be in TEMPE & WILL REMAIN in AZ for good. So, I HATE ta break it to ya, go cry to the NHL for expansion teams in your cities, I GUARANTEE you WON’T get them. The relocation rumours are simply B.S. & you all NEED to move on & worry about your own teams in your own cities & let us get on with ours. Thanks.

      • The first three links were from local sources ( Almost all the rest were from American-based sources. I also made it quite clear that the NHL will do all it can to help the Coyotes stay in Arizona, and cited the club’s ongoing efforts to build a new arena. Cheers!

  2. Québec as been ready for so long … Just dont want to see Québecor getting the team … But still Coyotes need to move on. Bad move from Bettman to relocate the jets at the start. The better deal they had was close to Toronto a few years back. Anyway… Good Read!

  3. adding houston would HELP the stars….

  4. Re “ Dallas Stars might not be keen to have a rival on its patch potentially siphoning away fans and dollars.”…. I think cross state rivalry can only improve interest.

    Re siphoning fans…. I can’t imagine but a very few that would rather drive 3 hours there and 3 hours back to attend a Houston game over Stars game

    Conversely…. I would think it is but a few current Stars season ticket holders that are commuting (from Houston) to attend home games

    Many a family in Saskatchewan drive 2 or more hours there and back to catch a home Rider game…. But that is the true Pride of the province…. With two big NHL markets (If Yotes relocate to Houston)…. I think Stars fans will remain loyal and any trickle of fan loss will be more than compensated for with increased interest in hockey in the Lone Star state

    Similarly (but even to a greater degree)…. A team in Quebec with spur province wide interest; and inter-provincial rivalry will increase HRR for Habs

    Time to relocate is now

    I’m hoping (for the game of hockey) that Gary finally admits his error and does what’s right for the NHL; and allows a relocation

    The other 31 teams will gain a nice piece of dough by splitting the relo fees

    Quebec already has a state of the art; basically brand new NHL ready arena; and the Toyota Centre (Houston) is but 18 years old


    • Pengy; Winnipeg Blue Bomber fans and Saskatchewan Roughriders fans, will both travel back and forth to each city for a game which is a 5hr drive.

      This only a couple times a year, I don’t believe the Houston Fans would hurt Dallas. I think it would be more like Pitts and Philly fans.

  5. Forget Quebec or any other city in Canada getting any team. The economics rule it out as another Canadian team would raise minimal revenues. If/when the Coyotes relocate, they’ll move somewhere in America. Houston, Kansas City and Cleveland are exploitable markets.

    • Still a gate driven league Paul and although Canadian teams account for only 1/5th of the teams they generate one third of league revenues. Not saying you’re wrong, just pointing this out.

  6. Still a gate driven league Paul and although Canadian teams account for only 1/5th of the teams they generate one third of league revenues. Not saying you’re wrong, just pointing this out.