Updated Apr 22, 2011 - 12:31 pm
Can hockey work in Phoenix?
Phoenix is not a great sports town.
There, I said it. You know it's true.
At times, Phoenix is not even a good sports town. If we are being completely honest with ourselves, it's a decent sports town.
Yes, decent. Not bad, not great, just decent.
The one good thing about this place is at least the fans support you when you win. But like many sports towns, this place doesn't show a lot of love to the local teams when they are not winning.
We know Phoenix is a transient city. Many of us come from somewhere else and have brought our hometown loyalties with us.
For many of us the Suns, Diamondbacks, Coyotes, Cardinals and ASU are our second favorite teams. For a lot of us, we want to root for the local teams, but we want them to give us a reason to root for them - and lately they haven't done that.
The Diamondbacks lost 97 games last season, the Suns failed to make the playoffs, the Cardinals went 5-11, the Coyotes just got embarrassed in the first round of the playoffs and Arizona State football went a ho-hum 6-6 and failed to make a Bowl game - again. I won't even mention how bad ASU men's basketball was as I am trying to forget the season Herb Sendek's squad had.
So you can imagine how much support the local teams had this year with all that losing. Not much.
The Cardinals sold out all of their games last year, but football is king and they were coming off a playoff season the year before. This year, the NFL thought so much of the Cardinals they are a member of the Forgotten Five - one of only five teams without a primetime game. The Rams, Seahawks and 49ers all at least play one primetime game, but not Arizona. And I'd be surprised if the Cardinals don't have their first blackout in the new stadium this season.
There were pockets of empty seats at home games throughout the Suns' season, while Chase Field seats 49,000 but on most nights they are fortunate to be at half capacity. Sun Devil Stadium seats 71,706 but in four of their five home games last year the team failed to reach 50,000.
Which brings us to the Coyotes. Jobing.com Arena was home to four sellouts in the regular season out of the 41 games played there. The Coyotes lose tens of millions of dollars every year. They had fewer than 7,000 fans for a game against the Kings in October. Clearly a mistake was made in building a new arena in Glendale. The team would have seen much better support had they stayed in Phoenix or in the East Valley, but it is what it is.
And now the question: Have 15 years of hockey in the desert been enough to determine whether this team can be successful here?
I've gone back and forth sharing information with some sports radio insiders in Winnipeg and they believe that the Coyotes have had more than a fair amount of time to make it work in Phoenix. They also believe it failed.
Shane Doan joined my radio show this week and said the Coyotes "haven't been given a fair chance here." OK, so which is it? Have the Coyotes had enough time to make it work or do they deserve more time?
Unlike the NFL, NBA and MLB, NHL teams do not generate much revenue from television. The majority of their revenue is derived from ticket sales. For a team to be successful, they must sell near-capacity crowds in order to make money.
Can that happen here in the Valley?
So far the answer in Glendale has been no. When the Coyotes had stars like Jeremy Roenick and Keith Tkachuk, they had great crowds at America West Arena. But that building was in Phoenix.
If the Coyotes had a bona fide star, would that help? Probably.
The reality is the Coyotes will draw well on weekends and struggle on weekdays simply because of where the arena is.
In Winnipeg they have a new building, increased population and the value of the Canadian dollar is now on par with that of the American dollar. It's viable for hockey to work in that city this time around.
As a hockey fan, I want the Coyotes to stay in Arizona.
I think it can work with the right ownership group and a successful team. Nobody will get rich except the players, but it can be viable. But I also know that it can fail because I've seen this team lose $25-30 million each of the last few years.
The NHL is in a tough spot. They want hockey to remain here and believe it can work in this market.
I hope they are right.