The 5: Takeaways from the Coyotes’ introduction of Alex Meruelo
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes, at long last, have a new majority owner. Alex Meruelo closed on his sale of the franchise earlier this week.
The businessman was introduced at a press conference on Thursday at Gila River Arena, flanked on one side by team president and CEO Ahron Cohen and general manager John Chayka on the other.
An entrepreneur from a young age, Meruelo hopes to improve what’s already been put in motion under Cohen, Chayka, head coach Rick Tocchet and others. His goal in the short term is to make the playoffs, and his goal in the long term is to win a Stanley Cup, he said.
As the Meruelo era gets underway for the Coyotes, here are five takeaways from his introductory press conference on Thursday:
Meruelo wants to win
Described as passionate, Meruelo wasted no time in proving that when answering a question about the fanbase.
“I sure as [expletive] want to win.”
As he referenced multiple times, the new majority owner stated his desire to build not only a successful team from a business standpoint, but one that wins.
“My goal here with the rest of the team, the executives, the players, the coaches — I will not stop until we bring a Stanley Cup to the Valley,” he said. “That is my goal, my commitment and hopefully my promise to keep to all of you guys.”
Chayka, who took a moment during the press conference to thank previous majority owner Andrew Barroway, sounded optimistic about what Meruelo could do to improve the team’s chances of on-ice success.
“For a number of years, to talk about trying to win a Stanley Cup, as much as that was always the goal, it’s challenging if you’re not investing the way you need to to continue to grow these businesses,” he said. “And now it’s sinking in that it’s a realistic goal. We have the capacity, wherewithal, the resources to approach that.”
On the arena situation and staying in Arizona…
The Coyotes are currently on a year-to-year lease at Gila River Arena, and Meruelo was asked about the viability of staying there longer term instead of finding a new building, which has long been the plan.
“It’s a difficult situation. As you know, we lose quite a bit of money here,” he said. “It’s difficult because our fanbase is more in the Valley, it’s not so much out here. The corporate sponsors aren’t really out here. We don’t really have a long-term lease. All those are really big challenges that I have to address and we have to address as a team. But I am committed to making it work, whether it be here or someplace in the Valley.”
Regardless, Meruelo reiterated multiple times his intention to keep the team in the Valley.
“My focus right now with the rest of my team is to get something that’s financially sustainable in Arizona,” he said. “We’re working hard at it. It’s my first day, but my plans are, like I said before, is to keep the team here and make it where it’s financially sustainable and viable.”
The Coyotes will be treated like a business
Meruelo has been described as someone who takes businesses that are failing or broken and improves them and turns them around.
“I don’t see the Coyotes are in that situation, but they have financial problems, as we all know,” he said on that subject.
Either way, he plans to treat his new sports team like a business.
“Similar in many aspects,” he said when comparing the Coyotes to other businesses he owns. “Different, because it’s a sports team. But at the end of the day whether you’re flipping pizzas or you’re hitting hockey pucks, it’s a business and it must be treated as one.
“Hockey is a sport, but it’s also a business. I’ve had a lot experience growing businesses and turning them around. For 40 years I’ve been doing this. I’ve had a lot of success. I’ve got good people that I work with that I consider to be my team and my family and that makes me who I am today.”
Chayka, who went to business school at the University of Western Ontario, can relate.
“I think if you look at his resume, he’s always invested in his businesses,” Chayka said. “Now, he runs it like a business. He refers to it as ‘smart money’ and he and I are on the same page with that.
“I think if you’re trying to accomplish a goal of winning a Stanley Cup, you have to be very thoughtful about things. He’s not going to come in and be wasteful. But at the same time, we’ve gone to him with specific asks for Phil Kessel, for Carl Soderberg. Those are obviously moves that cost money, and he was very open and willing to discuss those, and if it makes sense, he’s willing to spend.”
A vote of confidence for Cohen and Chayka
Meruelo spoke highly of the individuals sitting on either side of him, Cohen and Chayka.
“I truly believe John and Ahron have done an amazing job,” Meruelo said. “They’ve got depth in the young players, we made a couple of key trades or acquisitions now. I like the way [Chayka] sees things. He’s not in it for the short-term. We’re in it for the long term. Every decision he’s made and how he shows me all the statistics, how he sees the players and what we’re doing with them, I think it’s a winning combination. I am sold.”
This may come into play with how involved Meruelo ends up being in the day-to-day of the team.
“There’s certain decisions that I have to make, but for the most part, I’ve got two good individuals and the rest of the team executives that I think are fantastic,” he said. “It’s their responsibility to help me make this happen. I’m not here to micromanage them, tell them what to do, no. They know what they have to do.”
Meruelo takes pride in being the NHL’s first Hispanic owner
Speaking in Spanish on more than one occasion during the introduction, Meruelo referenced his Hispanic heritage multiple times and acknowledged there’s an added responsibility that comes with being the first Hispanic majority owner in the NHL. He and Cohen mentioned the aspiration of connecting more with the Hispanic community in the Valley.
“We’re going to look at everything,” Cohen said. “That’s something that I take responsibility for. We have not done a very good job over the past several years of reaching out to the Hispanic community, and we have the right person now to really connect with that community. We’re going to take steps forward and we really hope to grow that relationship.”