Another rejected bid for a new stadium referendum in Arizona has the Coyotes ready to pack up and move.
NHL relocation procedures are already being discussed according to the league, which voiced disappointment in the outcome of the latest vote late Tuesday.
Voters rejected three proposals that would have permitted the construction of a new arena for the Coyotes in Tempe. The team played last season at Arizona State’s 5,000-seat Mullett Arena.
Developers hoped to build a $2.3-billion entertainment district in Tempe, and by a 56-44 split in early returns, voters opposed the proposition. The complex would include the Coyotes’ new home in addition to retail, entertainment and residential space.
“We are very disappointed Tempe voters did not approve Propositions 301, 302, and 303. As Tempe Mayor Corey Woods said, it was the best sports deal in Arizona history,” Coyotes president and CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez said in a statement. “The Coyotes wish to thank everyone who supported our efforts and voted yes. … What is next for the franchise will be evaluated by our owners and the National Hockey League over the coming weeks.”
Current franchise owner Alex Meruelo, the majority owner since 2019, had previously attempted to purchase pro sports franchises and hasn’t indicated a preference to sell the team.
“The National Hockey League is terribly disappointed by the results of the public referendum regarding the Coyotes’ arena project in Tempe. We are going to review with the Coyotes what the options might be going forward,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement Tuesday night.
TSN reported Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia could be interested in acquiring the Coyotes and moving the team to Phoenix.
If new ground can’t be found for a home in Arizona, the Coyotes appear to have three active options on the table: Atlanta, Houston and Salt Lake City.
Cost could become a deterrent. In 2009, when a bid to move the franchise to Hamilton, Ont., was unanimously voted down by owners, the relocation fee was projected at $195-million. TSN estimated that figure might be three times higher in 2023.
Geographically, shuffling north to Utah might be the least complicated for the NHL, allowing the Coyotes to remain in the same division and walk into a full-time home stadium in Vivint Arena. The building is owned by local businessman Ryan Smith, who said he recently met with Bettman and plans to bring hockey to Utah.
Houston has some of the same trappings. Billionaire Tilman Fertitta acquired the NBA’s Rockets in 2017 for a record-setting $2.3-billion and the Toyota Center is available if the Coyotes were to become a co-tenant.
It’s not clear if the NHL is ready to open the door to Atlanta for a third time. But Meruelo had an agreement to purchase the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and their home stadium – then Phillips Arena – before the deal was terminated during the owner approval process in 2011.
Two Atlanta-based NHL franchises have relocated to Canada, including the second iteration of the Winnipeg Jets in 2011. The original Winnipeg franchise is the Arizona Coyotes, moving from Western Canada to Phoenix in 1996. The Calgary Flames were originally established in 1972 as the Atlanta Flames, bolting for Calgary in 1980.