Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Phoenix Coyotes - Right concept, wrong location for the wrong crowds

The complex which the Phoenix Coyotes play in is amazing. Surrounded by at least a dozen restaurants, acres of easy parking, hotels, baseball’s spring training complexes and quality shopping, the Glendale Arena complex is as good as it gets. However it’s in the wrong part of town.

What makes this part of town wrong isn’t the neighbourhoods – they are all newer homes with acres of still undeveloped scrub brush in between. Nor is it the people – all are younger family areas. Nor is it the lack of other sports venues in which to connect with – the University of Phoenix Stadium where the Arizona Cardinals play is a few blocks away. What makes this part of town the wrong place is that it is nowhere near Scottsdale.

Hockey draws a certain type of fan. While football and basketball fans are of a different ilk, hockey fans tend to have a bit more money, a better and more stable job, a bit more technologically savvy and are more protective of how they spend their personal time. Scottsdale and the areas of north east metro Phoenix (where Scottsdale is located) is where this type of fan lives. The challenge is that Glendale is located on the opposite corner of metro Phoenix, in the southwest area and Glendale is not where these kind of fans live. The population is more sparse around Glendale than the more mature and more affluent north east section. This requires a Scottsdale resident that works downtown during the week to drive all the way to the southwest corner of the city, stay for dinner, watch the game, then drive back across town home. That would be like asking anyone that works in downtown Toronto to drive to Scarborough to see a game then head back through the city to get home in Mississauga. Similarly that would be like having a downtown Vancouver worker drive to Surrey for a game then drive back home to Richmond. Far too much time, money and stress to undertake.

Remember that before the development of the Glendale arena the initial area for the arena was going to be in the Scottsdale area. Also remember the Coyotes started off playing in the non-hockey, basketball biased arena that still exists in downtown Phoenix – where the Suns still play today. While a downtown arena in Phoenix would have fixed the problem, the thought of two arenas in the central core would have been political and financial suicide especially considering that the retractable roof baseball stadium is right across the street from the Suns’ arena.

The arena in Glendale isn’t bad. It offers a decent number of suites, quality sight lines and an open air feel that is not common in the NHL (the upper concourse is open to the rink below in the end zones). Oddly there are some corner seats that can’t see the other end of the ice which seems strange for an arena built with the purpose of showcasing hockey.

The atmosphere of what surrounds the arena itself is both highly energetic and a blueprint for what more NHL arenas should come up with. It’s like having Whyte Avenue in Edmonton right outside the north side of Rexall Place or the Red Mile and Electric Avenue in Calgary surrounding the Saddledome.

So what is the solution? If the Coyotes could schedule every home game on a Friday and Saturday night, or on a Sunday afternoon, the situation would solve itself. Fans that live in the opposite corners of the city may decide to turn the game into an event and not mind the drive via the interstate highways to get to Glendale. The team, arena and area entertainment venues would then be smart to work together to offer families incentives to come as a group. However fans don’t typically turn Tuesday and Wednesday mid-week games into these events when they have to work the next day. If a potential owner could get the NHL to make these scheduling changes, the Coyotes staying in Phoenix might actually work out.

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