Bettman says Coyotes' ASU plan is acceptable if new building gets commitment

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was adamant that Arizona is the right place for the Coyotes organization and that while a small arena isn't ideal, he feels that it's worth it if there's a proper arena deal for the future.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman endorsed a plan by the Arizona Coyotes to share an arena with Arizona State University temporarily, but he qualified that by saying the team still needs to secure a commitment to build its own permanent home.

The City of Glendale plans to terminate the Coyotes' lease at Gila River Arena after this season on June 30. The team has approached the city of Tempe, located just east of Phoenix, to build a new rink there but the project — if approved — would require multiple years to complete.

As an interim solution, the Coyotes have reached out to ASU to share the school's new hockey arena, scheduled to open later this year.

"At the end of the day, if there has to be a temporary accommodation — knowing that a new building is coming, this obviously can’t be indefinite — I think they can create a terrific experience for people in a more intimate setting," Bettman said. "It wouldn’t be the first time that we were in a small, temporary facility pending the construction of a new arena."

ASU's arena is considerably smaller than typical NHL venues with a maximum capacity for 5,000 fans and will need the Coyotes to build team-specific areas — such as dressing rooms and training facilities — to comply with NCAA rules.

A move to the compact facility will not affect how much hockey-related revenue the Coyotes will receive, as Bettman pointed out they're already at the maximum allowance, and he's optimistic it might even work out better financially than their current situation.

"This will tell you why they need a new arena: We’re not sure they’re going to be a material difference between their revenues at ASU than where they’re at a level at Glendale," Bettman said. "In fact, under one projection we’ve done, we think they may do better."

The Coyotes have had a tumultuous tenure in the desert since relocating from Winnipeg in 1996. The team originally played out of the America West Arena, which they shared with the Suns of the NBA, in downtown Phoenix until moving to Gila River Arena in 2003. The Coyotes, under then-owner Jerry Moyes, filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and were sold to the league, which operated the franchise until 2013. Alex Meruelo purchased controlling interest in the Coyotes in 2019.

"This is a good market," Bettman said. "This has been a franchise that has had its challenges, some of which has been beyond its control, and as long as there’s commitment and forthcoming for a new building, that it’s going to be worth sticking with it."

In September, the Coyotes proposed a $1.7-billion development in Tempe that included a hockey arena, restaurants, shops and apartments on a 46-acre tract of land near the city's downtown. However, the proposal was reportedly in danger of not getting enough votes to pass.

"You’ve got to look at the alternatives because Alex Meruelo, particularly based on what he’s prepared to do is obviously committed to the Coyotes and committed to Arizona," Bettman said. "He is hopeful enough and optimistic that is something he can do, which we think will completely reverse the current fortunes of the club.

"What do you do in the interim? Glendale has shut them out. The Phoenix Suns have apparently no interest in sharing their building even on a temporary basis with the Coyotes. My guess is they would prefer that the Coyotes leave town. But there are a lot of hockey fans and the team has built a good fanbase and with the right arena situation they will be fine. Better than fine, I think they’ll be great."

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