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The Arizona State University Coyotes

It’s been recently announced that the Arizona Coyotes will be playing their homes games at Arizona State University’s hockey facility starting next season. The 5,000-seat arena is set to open in 2022 as a brand new home to the Sun Devils who are an independent team in NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey. And, with this college hockey program on the rise, the NHL's Coyotes will bring even more hockey to Tempe.

When this news came out, most of the hockey world laughed out of pity for the Coyotes organization. Arizona's hockey franchise had been struggling the last few years as a business… They’ve been consistently the top candidate for the relocation of an NHL franchise, they’ve made themselves comfortable at the bottom of the standings year after year, and what’s most made fun of is their attendance rate which seems to be close to 0%. So, when it was announced that an NHL team would be moving from the standard 20,000-seat arena to a 5,000-seater, it left many fans (not Coyotes fans, because there are none) wondering, “why not just relocate at this point?”

When Gary Bettman, Cornell ILR Class of 1974, was appointed as commissioner in 1993, he made it clear that his vision was to modernize the NHL and grow the game of hockey. Hosting NHL games in China, Scandinavia, and Central Europe attest to this vision, as well as the magnification of the diversity of players in the NHL. Furthermore, the league started to make efforts to expand to non-traditional hockey regions in America such as the Southwest. They took advantage of their video game, EA Sports NHL, by putting their Arizona-born superstar Auston Matthews on the disc’s cover in two of the last three years. The NHL is putting a lot of effort into these regions while some bigger metropolitan areas like Houston and Quebec City wait for their own team.

The current business model of the NHL is to expand, and not necessarily to continue growing and moving forward. The focus has shifted from making money to valuing the sport. Their view is that if the league can diversify its pool of players to have more professionals come from unconventional hockey regions, then it will be better for business in the long run. For this reason, the NHL is allocating their efforts elsewhere when it comes to bringing hockey back to more economically-enticing areas. But is this the right decision?

If you compare the NHL’s growth to other leagues, it is evident that it is by far the slowest growing league in 2022. Whether it’s the NBA’s increasing followers on Instagram or the UFC’s increasing viewership, the NHL is one leg down from every other league in some facet. This diversity and growth initiative has been going on for a long time now, and the NHL hasn’t seemed to get it together.

Is it time to shift the focus more towards money? The fourth biggest city in the United States still doesn’t have a hockey team. One of the most hardcore fanbases in hockey is begging for their Nordiques to return. Meanwhile, there aren’t enough people in Arizona to care about their Coyotes that they have to move to a college arena in hopes of filling up 5,000 seats.

It is clear where the NHL’s priorities are, but there is a question as to whether they should be reevaluated in 2022.

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