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Stop Kidding Yourself, NHL: Top-level Hockey Does Not Belong in Phoenix

March 18, 2013
Glen Hodgson
Senior Vice-President and Chief Economist
Forecasting and Analysis

Version française

I recently had the opportunity to spend a week in the Phoenix region, soaking in the sun and watching some top-level sports. In addition to seeing Canada play three games in the World Baseball Classic (and win the “basebrawl” against Mexico), I attended three Coyotes games at their beautiful arena in Glendale—and came away convinced that the NHL’s days in the desert are numbered. It's time to accept reality, stop propping up the franchise and move it to a place where NHL hockey is appreciated, like Quebec City.

Why does NHL hockey not belong in Phoenix? There are four reasons.

  1. First and foremost, there is no hockey culture in the Valley, even after having an NHL team in the area for almost twenty years. It is hard to create a hockey culture when the temperature rises to 30 degrees Celsius in mid-March and when there is never any natural ice available for games of shinny, or even much artificial ice available for organized leagues. The Coyotes have done their best to create a local fan base, and there are plenty of Canadian snowbirds and tourists at every game (as witnessed by the array of Canadian NHL team jerseys), but hockey has not taken root with the masses—and never will.
  2. Second, there is plenty of pro sports competition in the Phoenix region. Phoenix has a team in every major pro sports league except soccer, has a NASCAR track, and is home to the Cactus League of pre-season major league baseball. There are scores of golf courses for vacationers and local residents. As a consequence, hockey gets crowded out by other sporting options and is clearly the low person on the totem pole.
  3. Third, the Coyotes’ arena is in the wrong place, on the far west side of town in Glendale. Simply put, it is hard to get there easily during the week. Much of Phoenix is a non-stop traffic jam at rush hour, especially for fans trying to travel from the eastern suburbs of Scottsdale, Tempe and Mesa all the way across town mid-week to see the Coyotes play. In my case, I left my hotel in Mesa at 4:45 pm on a Thursday afternoon and only arrived at the rink over two hours later, just in time to hear the anthem and see the puck drop. Not surprisingly, there were less than 10,000 fans in the building for a game against a good St. Louis team. The crowds were better on Saturday night against Dallas, and on Tuesday night against the rival LA Kings, but there were still lots of empty seats.
  4. And finally, contrary to popular perception, Arizona is not a rich state and Phoenix is not a rich city. Arizona ranks 26th among US states in per capita income, meaning there are fewer discretionary dollars available in the mass market to spend on items like hockey tickets—even if it were widely popular.

In sum, it’s time for the NHL to stop the endless search for an owner who would keep the Coyote franchise in Phoenix. Accept reality, stop writing cheques, and move the franchise to a place where NHL hockey is appreciated. Quebec City should be at the top of the list, even if it means playing a season in the Colisee until the new building is completed.

 

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