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What we learned from the introduction of Coyotes CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez

Xavier Gutierrez, Managing Director/Clearlake Capital Group, speaks onstage at the SUPERCHARGED Summit by Kwanza Jones at City Market Social House on October 19, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Greg Doherty/Getty Images for SUPERCHARGED)

Last year, the Coyotes got a new owner, Alex Meruelo. On Monday, they announced a new president and CEO, Xavier A. Gutierrez.

The Harvard and Stanford grad has an extensive background in business and investments, with employers ranging from Lehman Brothers to the NFL. On paper, it would seem to be a good hire. And on paper, it corroborates Meruelo’s continuous bold claim that he ‘sure as [expletive]’ wants to win, as was written on Meruelo’s t-shirt during a media conference call on Monday and uttered aloud once again for all to hear.

“We want to build a financially stable and prosperous organization for the long term and our ultimate goal is to bring, definitely, sure as [expletive], to bring a Stanley Cup to Arizona,” Meruelo said in his opening statement.

Gutierrez’s opening statement said the organization vowed to strive toward winning on the ice; sustainable, long-term business solutions off the ice; financial stability; strategic decision-making; expanding the fanbase; and leading in the community. All easy, right?

Here’s a closer look at some of the specifics of Gutierrez’s hire and what may be ahead for the franchise’s top executive:

On a new arena, and other challenges

The Coyotes fanbase has long wanted a new arena, partly because of Gila River Arena’s location in the West Valley and the inconvenience of getting there for weeknight games. Owner Alex Meruelo said the hope is to have something arena-related announced by the end of this year.

“If it wasn’t for what happened with COVID, we’d be so much further ahead.” Meruelo said. “It’s really set us back at least six to nine months. I still hope and I plan, with Xavier’s help — Xavier is very good at this — we’d like to get something announced by the end of the year.”

Gutierrez acknowledged his role in getting something done.

“Clearly, there’s been conversations pre-dating me about what is the best option,” Gutierrez said. “I’m very new. I’m going to look at everything. I’m obviously going to take the lead on this. But clearly, Mr. Meruelo also has his perspective that we would like to pursue a solution that’s long-term, that’s financially stable and that makes sense for our team, for our players, for our fans and for this entire community.”

There will be other challenges as well, perhaps some that are unique to the hockey world and in the sports world. Gutierrez’s background is largely in non-sports business, but he did work as a financial analyst in the NFL league office.

“Obviously sports is different in large part because you have so many stakeholders, right? You obviously have ownership … You obviously have our partners, our business partners, who we want to see succeed and we want to be the partner of choice. You also have the league and you have the other owners, so there’s other stakeholders there. And then ultimately you have this community … So it’s unique in that perspective.

“Plus, whenever I’ve done a transaction, I haven’t had a virtual zoom meeting with media. So that also makes it incredibly different. Everything you do is quite public, and we will strive to live up to being the best.”

Why he wanted the job

Gutierrez has worked in investments and was the managing director of both Phoenix Realty Group and Clearlake Capital. So why take over the top office of a hockey team?

“There’s so many things that really make this the right opportunity for me. It starts first with Alex Meruelo,” said Gutierrez, who formerly worked for the Meruelo Group. “The opportunity to work with someone who I admire, someone who I respect, someone who’s accomplished so much and who I know so well. We have done many transactions, many investments over the years. So the opportunity to come back to him.

“Second, I’m incredibly passionate about sports. And I’m incredibly passionate about this opportunity to here with such a fanbase and such a community.

“It was also a chance I think to be part … this is a team on the rise. This is going to be the franchise in the NHL that’s going to have an incredible amount of success on the ice, and I want to be part of ensuring that it will have an incredible amount of success off the ice.”

Reaching new demographics in Arizona

Part of the significance of Gutierrez’s hire wasn’t just that he is a new president and CEO, but he’s the first Latino to hold that position in NHL history.

With Gutierrez and Meruelo, the Coyotes may be well-positioned to target new demographics in the Valley.

“The Latino market is large here,” Gutierrez said. “I believe it’s 40%-plus, so it’s clearly a market that we want to tap into. I think it wouldn’t make business sense not to approach them. In terms of how to do so, it is both Spanish and English. You have English-dominant families, and I have nephews who hockey was their first sport in California because the Kings and the Ducks reached out to them. They’re English-dominant and they are rabid hockey fans. And we want to see that and we want to replicate that here. So it will be a mix of both.

“I think the way to think about it is we want to welcome fans. And so being in culture, being culturally-relevant and appropriate, I think that’s what matters. I would say the same of targeting female hockey fans, which are incredibly passionate fans that I think have a great, great opportunity for us to target them, as well.”

The Coyotes introduced Spanish social media accounts and a Hispanic Advisory Board last year.

Wanting to be innovative and use tech

The opening statement from Gutierrez expressed the desire to be innovative in reaching new fans.

“I come from a background in which technology plays an incredible part of what you do,” Gutierrez said. “So tech-enabled strategy will clearly be top-of-mind. But also, just an in-person, real outreach. So we want to be present in this community. We want to be present with our fans and we want to be present with the fans-to-be. So I think it’s a strategic plan that utilizes technology, utilizes digital platforms. We want to be a vanguard of the confluence between sports, media, entertainment and technology. And we will. We’re bringing in team members to be able to do that.”

Among the items on Gutierrez’s resume is his experience working on the board of directors of Sizmek, an advertising technology firm.

Hockey background

Gutierrez, a Harvard alum, said his first hockey game was a college match between Harvard and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in November of 1991. He later became a San Jose Sharks fan.

“My son is no longer a Sharks fan, he is now a Coyotes fan,” Gutierrez said. “I still have my Harvard hockey jersey hanging in my closet, even if my wife wants me to throw it away.”

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