Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Playing Below Capacity: Phoenix Coyotes

Welcome to the fourth edition of my little series here at Puck Money called Playing Below Capacity. Playing Below Capacity is where I take a look at teams that are playing in front of crowds of less than 85% at home (as of December) to see what they are doing right and wrong to try to get people in the seats. The first edition was the Devils, followed by the Kings, and most recently topped by the Predators (featured on Yahoo's Puck Daddy!). Today, its off to the desert of Glendale, Arizona; where the Coyotes are obviously in a boatload of financial concerns as of late. I will do my best to steer clear of those and focus on the attendance issues at hand. Phoenix is 25th in attendance ranked by capacity, with a rating of 84.6% through 24 home games. Let's begin.*

*Warning: Please remember that I'm a young college kid who thinks he knows what he's talking about. Any "problems" that I suggest the Coyotes have are my opinion and are most likely not that accurate. Also, any information I used can easily be found on the Internet as I am a typical lazy college kid. With that said, enjoy.

Here are the ideas I came up with that could be problems with getting people to go to Coyotes game on a regular basis...
  • Arena Location/Age
  • High Ticket Prices/Poor Promotional Events
  • Metro Population
  • On Ice Product
  • Location/History of Franchise
  • Other
Before we get going, some facts of the Phoenix Coyotes (wikipedia):
  • The "Coytoes" moved to Phoenix in 1996 after being known as the Winnipeg Jets since 1972. The Jets were apart of the WHA from '72-'79 and then merged into the NHL.
  • The Coyotes have made the playoffs five times in their 11 seasons in the desert. All five playoff appearances came in their first six seasons, their last in 2001-2002.
  • They originally played a the US Airways Center in Phoenix for seven years until 2003. The team then moved to Glendale to the new Jobing.com Arena.
  • The Capacity for Ice Hockey at Jobing.com Arena is 17,799.
And so we move on...

- Arena Location/Age

With Jobing.com being only six years old this season, I'm sure the quality of the arena isn't keeping fans away in the desert. What has been debated though is the location of the Arena, in neighboring Glendale, about 20-30 minutes away from Phoenix. Here is a screenshot via Google Maps (click to enlarge):

Jobing.com Arena is noted by the arrow labeled "B" in the picture. I asked Google for directions from Phoenix to the Arena and the blue line is what popped up, a 23 minute ride by car.

The Arena is on the outskirts of town, but Phoenix is surrounded by residential areas full of possible 'Yotes fans. Take another look at the picture. Downtown Phoenix isn't anything to imposing. Phoenix is basically set up like a giant retirement community. The roads are straight and the blocks are perfectly square, and like I said, residential areas all around. One thing I think that could make a difference is not playing in downtown Phoenix at the US Airways Arena, where the Suns of the NBA play and have always had better attendance.

To an outsider, it may seem like an issue. Some Coyotes fans in the link I provided above about the Coyotes home being debated about seem to think its really a non-issue. Take a look at this picture now (click to enlarge):

Many fans point out that the Jobing.com Arena sits right next door to the University of Phoenix Stadium; where the Cardinals have sold out every game and many college basketball games do well. This is a fair argument, but I still think that if the Coyotes were playing in downtown Phoenix, they might get a slight attendance boost.

I also wanted to mention the parking aspect at Jobing.com Arena. According to thesportsroadtrip.com, parking at the Arena is free, the only team in the major four to do so. There have been rumors that the Coyotes might start charging for the space, but none that I can link to.

- High Ticket Prices/Poor Promotional Events

The Coyotes made famous the "All you can eat" tickets, in an effort to draw a nice crowd on New Years Eve, 2008. It worked, somewhat. They saw their second highest crowd since opening night, with 16,199 packing into Jobing.com Arena to watch some hockey and eat their hearts out. As for ticket prices, the Coyotes don't (and really can't afford to) kill you. In 2008-2009, the Coyotes rank 28th in the Fan Cost Index at Teammarketing.com. The Fan Costs Index:
comprises the prices of four (4) average-price tickets, two (2) small draft beers, four (4) small soft drinks, four (4) regular-size hot dogs, parking for one (1) car, two (2) game programs and two (2) least-expensive, adult-size adjustable caps.
This years FCI for Phoenix is only one of four teams to decrease from last season. Their FCI is at $221.80, which is about $65 below the NHL Average. Their average ticket comes in at $37.45, about $12 below the NHL Average. Finally, which was a shock to me, their average premium ticket price is $129.23, about $15 above the NHL Average. Along with the low ticket prices, the Coyotes do some nice giveaways (mostly in the first half of the season), plus some great discounted prices (Only $20 for a lower-level ticket for students and military, wow).

Do I really think the ticket prices and offers are keeping fans away? No. The fact of the matter is, anyone that really wants to go to a sports event, especially hockey fans, will find the money to do so. But hey, at least the Coyotes haven't been accused of buying their own tickets like the Predators, yet.

- Metro Population

The cities of Glendale and Phoenix combine to have a population around 1.7 million people, with almost 50% of the population in Phoenix being non-Hispanic white, the NHLs main demographic. Glendale is ranked 28th by Statshockey.net in city population size in the NHL, but the Phoenix Metro Area comes in with just over 4 million people.

4 Million ranks Phoenix about average in the NHL in terms of Metro population. And as I showed you with the demographics clip, there is plenty of possible hockey fans. So the people are there, that's fore sure.

- On Ice Product

Everyone loves a winner. Take a look at this chart and graph below (click to enlarge):

As you can see, the real Attendance boost came in '03-'04, when the team had post two consecutive solid seasons and got their reputations up. Now that the Coyotes have an achieving young core poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002, the 'Yotes may really help their bottom line come this spring.

I think the On-Ice product is an issue. It is not THE issue for the Coyotes, but it definitely doesn't hurt to have a winner in what I like to call a "Bettman" market. I'll touch on that more later. If the Coyotes stick around in Phoenix, the crowds will be dazzled by Turris, Mueller, and Tikhonov for years to come. Throw in some solid goaltending by Ilya Bryzgalov and some pest-work by Daniel Carcillo and you being to see why the Coyotes are currently sitting in 5th place.

The Coyotes need to finish this season off strong on the ice to take some pressure surrounding the team and its ownership off the ice.

- Location/History of Franchise

It's the (favorite fun word here) desert. The Coyotes are in Phoenix because back in the late 90's player salaries got out of control and the small but constantly sold-out MTS Centre in Winnipeg couldn't support the Jets. Now, the fifth largest city in the United States, with a perfectly good arena and hockey club (this season at least), cannot support the Coyotes. Hockey is really only prevalent in Arizona because of the Coyotes and because of any retired folk there. I'm sure the Coyotes have grown the game a bit, but from my experience with USA Hockey (reading the monthly magazines, playing), you don't hear a lot about quality youth hockey being played in Arizona. What I will give the state is that they have the same amount of rinks of Tennessee and Georgia, combined (click to enlarge):

Off-note: 920 rinks in Ontario. Enough said.

- Other

I added this Other section because I have to share these photos when were talking about Attendance issues and the Coyotes. Plus I wanted to touch upon their meaning:

I took a look at who I think is "telling the truth" when it comes to reporting attendances back in December. The Coyotes fell into my "liars" list, naturally. Above is the Coyotes November 1st tilt against the Minnesota Wild. The reported attendance was 14,817. Now I have mentioned before on this site that it is really the clubs decision whether to announce the true attendance or the paid attendance. Some clubs, like the Coyotes, have to announce the paid; otherwise the team would be halfway to Ontario to play in one of its 920 rinks.

The above is truly a sad sight, but it is the results of a Bettman market. Phoenix is a great big US city with lots of televisions. This, contrary to Commissioner Bettmans hopes, doesn't necessarily equal a successful hockey market. Buffalo and Minnesota are successful hockey markets because the game is loved and put above all else there, and teams should always be in those markets because of this.

The Coyotes will obviously be receiving nice checks in the form of revenue sharing this season, no doubt about it. But when a team in the 5th largest city of the US is dead last in overall team value and has lost more money than one would care to know, along with being the only team in the league to actually lose value last season, why does Bettman insist on keeping this franchise in the desert? I know a lot of this is easier said than done, but how he can keep ignoring the fact that some of his Southern Expansion markets are just not going to work in the long run is beyond me (Atlanta and Florida are also to me not going to work).

- Conclusion

Attendance in Glendale and Phoenix has not been great since the turn of the century. But to be fair, neither really have the teams been either. To me, beyond the fact that the On-Ice product hasn't been great (with this season and '01-'02 being the exceptions) and the team moved 30 minutes outside of Phoenix, the bigger problem is clearly the market. And this isn't news, but more or less just a conformation. All the money news swirling around the club off the ice has surprisingly not affected the locker-room, which is promising. If the Coyotes continue down this path and cannot find a new owner, Mr. Bettman may have to concede to the very thing he seems to hate, relocation.

One last thing. Bettman seems to be content on selling the Coyotes to anyone who is willing to put up the cash (unless your name rhymes starts with a B and ends in alsillie). I'm sure fellow NHL Owners cannot pleased about this, as this may not be the best business strategy.

So that about wraps up the fourth edition of my series here at Puck Money, Playing Below Capacity. Be sure to check back next week as we should have another fun, relocation rant filled edition as the New York Islanders are next up on the list. Please feel free to comment and let me know if I made any mistakes.

More to come later, by the way.


  1. I think that to biggest factors are location and the on ice product. The biggest problem of the two being that the NHL in all its wisdom put a team in Pheonix AZ in the first place. The success of a team in a non-hockey market is almost completely reliant on the team performing well and the 'yotes haven't been great lately. They have some great young players though if they can hold on for a few more years, I'm not sure that's likely though.

    You really do some good work on this blog though. Like yourself I'm also a college student and I'm very interested in the business aspect of the NHL.

  2. I live in Arizona and I have to say that the biggest problem is Arizona is not a hockey state. The only people that even care about hockey are people that have transplanted here and most of them are going to pull for their hometown team, where ever that might of been from. I will also say that the Coyotes don't get a lot of exposure here either. If the Suns are playing, don't bother looking on FSN Arizona for the Coyotes.

  3. I think you should fall into the "LIARS" category too. You said "Above is the Coyotes November 1st tilt against the Minnesota Wild" The pictures above we not from this season. 1. There is no STING banner in the arena. 2. Bud Light is no longer a sponsor in the 08-09 Season, nor is their logo on the ice. 3. FAN 1060 which is on the boards is no longer our flagship station. 4. There is still a Foo Fighters Ad on the boards. The Concert was in March of 2008. Should I go on?
    Basically I am not saying that everything you wrote is false. Just do some better research before you post.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. This is actually very well done...and I agree with a lot that you said.

    I'm a season ticket holder and would be crushed if this team is relocated...but that's because I'm originally from NY, lived in Philly for 7 years and am a diehard hockey fanatic (I read so many hockey stories, I couldn't even tell you how I linked to your site in the first place).

    I think you've hit the two biggest points on the head, though.

    1) Arena location - it's far away, and the 7:00 starts are challenging to get to with Phoenix rush hour traffic. If the team pushed back the start time to 7:30, it would make a HUGE difference allowing families to make it to the game before the first puck drop. I realize that the game would end a bit late, but those people that would be turned away by leaving the arena at 10:15 are already not coming to leave at 9:45...plenty of people don't like to go because they can't get to the game for the start. Additionally, with a lot of the Phoenix metro population living in the east valley (Tempe, Mesa, Chandler) as opposed to the west valley (Glendale, Peoria, Arrowhead), it's an even longer commute than just from downtown. When we lived in Chandler, it was easily 40 minutes to the arena, even without rush hour traffic. That being said, Scottsdale didn't provide a suitable alternative when it had the chance, and they couldn't keep playing at US Airways Center...there are seats that have zero visibility of entire sides of the ice.

    2) The on-ice product...there are hockey fans here (lots of 'em!), but they are transplants. To this day, I'm still not sure if the Flyers or Coyotes are the team I'd be most excited to see win the Cup. Up to this year, it hasn't really been an option for them to really fight it out since the Coyotes have been a bit of a mess. But this team is GOOD, now people just need to take notice. Phoenix fans don't have long-term ties with their teams (except the Suns, apparently)...so it's "what have you done for me lately?" fans. D-backs games are very poorly attended, even though that team has been consistently competitive since it's WS title in 2001...the Cardinals, despite selling out all their games in the Glendale stadium, needed multiple extensions to sell out their first round playoff game against Atlanta. These are fairweather fans and until there is another Whiteout in the Desert, the fans are not going to be buying in...fortunately, it seems possible that this year the Coyotes will make the playoffs and they are so damn likeable that maybe the fandom will stick through next season as well.

    I know I've rambled, but thanks for the article...

  6. I'm a big hockey fan from Maryland and I was in Arizona last year on vacation and made it a point to get to a Coyotes game. The location wasn't that bad -- like you said, everything is flat in Phoenix; its all on a grid, so to get anywhere takes a little while with the traffic lights. Its nothing that should be a factor. Free parking is a big plus ($20 for a Caps game). The arena is beautiful. When you get to the outer corridor, there is a large area very similir to the ACC in Toronto; bars and restaurants for pre- and post-game activities, games for kids, etc. I was able to get tickets to the lower level for a decent price and had a great view. The fans in the upper deck were into it. I imagine their view was just like those of Verizon, Wachovia, United, and ACC; very distant from the ice, but you can see everything.

    So I think the big downfall is just the product -- at this time. We've seen how teams seem to be so bad for so long (how long did the Senators SUCK before they were perennially in the playoffs). The Coyotes are on the upswing though. If they can keep talent there, they will be fun to watch in the next few years. I hope they stay. And besides, Arizona is a great travel destination; what's a vacation without a little hockey? I recommend it to anyone who has never been to AZ.

  7. I live in Mesa, southeast valley. I go see the Coyotes when the Red Wings come to town twice. And probably 2-3 other non-Wings games just because I love hockey. The arena is great, in my opinion. But it's an hour drive for me and that's a problem. If it were in the downtown area, I'd make it to at least a couple more games a season. Also, if the team didn't suck every year, the attendance would be up too. That's obviously true in any market but especially so in Phoenix, land of the fair weather fans.

  8. At Anonymous:

    I was told the photos were from this year from the source that gave me them.

  9. It all started when Gretzky got involved. Everyone expected a great team because the Great One moved behind the bench. The Yotes have some talent, but until they get a coach they will continue to be a bottom feeder. Today they might be in a playoff spot, but check back with less than 10 to go. The Great One could play, and even inspire teammates, but that doesn't make you a head coach. Some Coyotes games are impressive, but more look like pond hockey pick up games...players just doing whatever...

  10. The big mistake was the location of the new arena. After building a fan base in mid-town and the east side they built the arena on the west side for one reason, $$$$. It is not fair to compare to football attendnace. Eight Sunday afternoons a year vs. 30 some weeknight games for commuting.

    Even if the team becomes good they will struggle with attendance due to the arena location.

  11. Nice blog. I cover the Coyotes from time to time so here it is. bruisebrothers.blogspot.com

    Anyway, I appreciate the analysis but as a Phoenix resident, there's a few things that need to be brought up:

    1. The Cardinals place once a week and overwhelmingly on Sundays. The Coyotes play 41 times over the season and as previously mentioned, the 7PM start time makes it challenging for fans to attend weekday games.

    2. The population density in Phoenix is overwhelmingly in the East Valley, with the largest cities being Mesa and Scottsdale. So take the distance from there, not the US Airways arena, and see what the typical commute is to a hockey game. Factor in the fact that rush hour ends here at 6-6:30 PM and it creates another obstacle for attendance. Most people don't want to pay to see half of a hockey game.

    3. All of the ice rinks in Phoenix are located in East Valley. By contrast, West Valley has three inline hockey rinks, but no ice rinks. Scottsdale, Tempe, Gilbert, Chandler, and East Phoenix all have ice rinks. That's where the game's at, but the team's not.

    Them's my two cents. Keep up the blogging!

  12. Bruise Bros...

    On point 3 there is a rink on 83rd Ave and Thunderbird in Peoria. About 10 minutes from the Arena.

  13. (This is coming in after the whole bankruptcy thing...)
    I think the problems are as follows:
    1. Moyes was heavily leveraged, this meant he couldn't spend a lot on players etc. This is probably why he decided to jump when Blackberry Guy made his offer.
    2. Location, location, location. In addition to the comments made above, we have to consider that for the early part of the season at least, gas was still around $4 a gallon. There is bus service to Jobing.com Arena, but it ends early (about 830 or 9pm) and its a long walk to the stop. Why see a loser team that's tough to get to? (esp if you're a retiree?)