What would the NHL lose by leaving Arizona?

What would the NHL lose by leaving Arizona?


The people of Quebec probably know it better than anyone: Gary Bettman's attachment to the Arizona market is almost unconditional. Until Tuesday evening, the commissioner of the NHL swore by one idea, that the Coyotes were in the desert to stay there. But what justifies this stubbornness to want to keep a team in a market like Arizona? 

This is a question that almost everyone asks themselves for at least ten years. The Coyotes have suffered failure after failure since joining the NHL, but Bettman and NHL governors have worked hard to try to keep them in Arizona.

And despite the negative vote in the referendum in Tempe on Tuesday night, there still seems to be an option that could allow the Coyotes to stay in Arizona. But for what purpose?

An attractive television market

The size of the Arizona market is undoubtedly the most important point of all this stubbornness. Say what you want about the passion of the people of the desert for hockey, Phoenix was still the 10th largest metropolitan market in the United States in 2021 according to Statista, with more than 4.9 million inhabitants, ahead of established NHL markets like Boston, Detroit, Tampa or Denver. 

Among metropolitan areas with an NHL team(s), it ranks eighth. 

Each of these markets is important to the NHL and Gary Bettman in negotiating its television rights. In 2021, the NHL signed a historic seven-year agreement with three major players: Disney and ESPN, which pay $400M annually, as well as Turner Sports, which extends another $225M per year. This is the biggest cash cow on the circuit and this contract was signed including the importance of the Arizona market. 

It is not new, moreover, that the television market of Phoenix and its surroundings is important for the NHL. In April 2011, a month before the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, many rumors were sending the Coyotes to Manitoba instead. The Globe and Mail then reported that several NHL governors believed that a major obstacle stood in the way of the realization of this project: television rights.

“It's not that they don't want not go to Winnipeg, they want to keep the Phoenix market, one of them said. All of our broadcast partners want to keep that market.

The Theory of Success in Southern Markets

Bettman's stubbornness also seems to be based on theoretical insights.

< p>When he took the reins of the NHL in 1993, Gary Bettman began a major plan to establish hockey in the southern markets of the United States, the famous Sun Belt. 

This is where we saw expansions in Florida and Anaheim in 1993, as well as the move of some franchises like the North Stars from Minnesota to Dallas to become the Stars, the Nordiques from Quebec to Denver, the Jets from Winnipeg to Phoenix and Hartford Whalers to Carolina. After difficult years, the Florida markets of Tampa Bay and Florida have stabilized while Californian teams have become hotspots for players and hockey has grown in popularity there. 

The recent addition of teams in non-traditional markets like Vegas, and the ensuing success, is another argument for Gary Bettman who has repeatedly said that Arizona's problem is not the fact that it was located in a place where hockey is not the no. 1 but rather that they never managed to find owners stable enough to build a solid foundation. 

“I have spent more than two decades supporting this dealership. There have been several pitfalls but the light at the end of the tunnel is spectacular,” Bettman said in an interview with PHNX Sports on April 13, a month before the referendum in Tempe.

A quality of extraordinary life

In a favorable situation, could Arizona become a market like those of Tampa Bay or Los Angeles, for example? One thing is for sure, players would settle there without any problem.

“If you talk to any player who has played there, there is really no one who did not like it . The quality of life outside the arena, the schools… Everything that is related to daily life there is exceptional, “says Éric Bélanger to the Journal, he who played in Arizona during of the 2010-2011 season.

“For a family, it's anonymity and it's appreciated,” adds Antoine Roussel, color bearer for the Coyotes in 2021-2022. It is definitive that many players are looking for that. In Arizona, there are also plenty of things to do. The weather is nice, it's magnificent, you're glued to the desert, California is nearby. Just the road to drop off my children at school, it's completely stupid how beautiful it was. Life is good there, it's impossible not to like it. »

Auston Matthews and the development of hockey

Hockey in Arizona hasn't been all bad. Toronto Maple Leafs star player Auston Matthews is probably the best example. Born and raised in the Arizona desert, he grew up a fan of the Arizona Coyotes before becoming one of the faces of the National Hockey League. Another Leafs player, forward Matthew Knies, also grew up in Arizona and is now one of the world's top prospects. continuation of the career of Matthews who will play the last year of his contract with the Leafs next season before becoming an unrestricted free agent and having the possibility of signing a contract with his boyhood team. This signing would be an invaluable marketing coup for this franchise.

For that, the team would still have to be in Arizona in 2024, when Matthews' contract ends. And nothing seems less certain.