Apr 10, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Aerial view of University of Phoenix Stadium (left), home of the Arizona Cardinals NFL football team. Also visible is the Gila River Arena in the Westgate Entertainment District , home of the Arizona Coyotes NHL hockey team. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
The Arizona Coyotes announced a plan to build a new, shared arena with Arizona State University in Tempe by the start of the 2019-2020 season. With a new stadium has to come some new amenities, right?
The team announced that they had struck a deal with Arizona State University to build a new dual arena complex near the northwest corner of McClintock and Rio Salado on the current ASU Karstens Golf Course.
The new arena location has decent access, despite being near a freeway pinch point, and is closer to areas with demographics more likely to consume hockey games (college students, middle class families in the East Valley), which means both attendance and interest should rise due to it’s location.
But now that the organization has shifted their focus from a location to the actual building plan itself, the team should really consider how to make the fan experience one of a kind while going through this process.
The team has grown it’s hockey footprint in the desert considerably over the last couple years, but making something of spectacle could draw in even more curious people who could end up being fans some day.
So here are five ways the the fan experience at the new arena could be upped, both for the Arizona Coyotes as well as the Arizona State Sun Devils.
Oct 11, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Fans wait to enter Gila River Arena prior to the game between the Arizona Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
If you know this part of Tempe, there are a few ways to make this stadium amazing and it starts with putting the footprint of the stadium in the right place.
If you’ve ever been at the intersection of McClintock and Rio Salado before, you’ll know what I’m about to talk about.
If you haven’t, let me describe it to you.
One corner is a pretty decent mall, complete with a transplanted Chicago institution in Portillos. Another corner is a commercial complex, while a third corner is the golf course where the stadium will be.
The fourth is an enormous eyesore of an APS power station.
Now, I study geography in college and I’m here to tell you, putting the front door of the stadium facing that power plant will not make it a very marketable nor pleasing view when we finally get a ‘NHL on NBC’ game again (whenever that might be).
The way to go would be to put the most vibrant side of the stadium right up against Tempe Town Lake on the northern border of the property, and create an outdoor party lounge or lakeside deck attached to to the stadium where the primary entrance would be.
It would build on the outdoor lifestyle reputation Arizona has, as well as expand on the success of the small deck the team currently has on the exterior of Gila River Arena.
Moreover, adding a connected party lounge as the Coyotes ownership suggested would create a more nightlife vibe to the complex that would not feel dissimilar to nearby Mill Avenue’s timbre. In fact, if the space was made big enough, that would be a pretty cool little prom space for high schools, which could create some added revenue.
Nonetheless, positioning the stadium to face it’s most marketable sides given the lot they want to build on, all of the emphasis should face the ASU campus and Tempe Town Lake.
It would create an atmosphere where it feels like a celebration of the game and cool spot for a playoff watch party, developing into what could be one of the best stadiums int the NHL.
Mar 5, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Coyotes mascot Howler poses with fans wearing retro uniforms before facing the Vancouver Canucks at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Both the Valley and Arizona as a whole are well known for their creative dining identities. If the Arizona Coyotes really want to be the hockey team of the state, they should diversify their dining options at the new arena.
Have you ever heard of Beckett’s Table in central Phoenix? Or El Gùero Canelo in Tucson?
Both are famous Arizona eateries and both should be on a short list to be concession tenants at the new arena.
The Arizona Diamondbacks started hosting local eateries at Chase Field a couple years ago (Lolo’s Chicken and Waffles and Paradise Valley Burger Company), which only made the D-Backs concession game one of the strongest in Major League Baseball.
So if the Coyotes really want to complete their transition from the Phoenix Coyotes to Arizona Coyotes, it’s time to change our hearts. And the best way to change someone’s heart is through food.
Obviously not all of Arizona’s famous eateries are stadium friendly or could adapt their menu to include a short list of arena-adjusted options, but it is not impossible. Here are a few examples, some more simple than others, along with the previously noted eateries:
Joe’s Real BBQ (Gilbert): It’s not hard to have a pulled-pork sandwich at a sports stadium, so why not have one of the best in the state be at the game?
Salsa Brava (Flagstaff): Widely considered one of the best places for Mexican cuisine in the northern part of the state, Brava’s menu could easily be adapted to fit an arena menu.
Los Dos Molinos (Phoenix): Have you been to Los Dos? Yes? Then I don’t need to explain this suggestion.
Pizzeria Bocce (Cottonwood): It isn’t hard to make pizza fit in an arena, but having a personal pizza like Bocce’s that doesn’t taste like cardboard (looking at you, Papa Johns) would skyrocket the Coyotes to the top of the ‘Best Arena Pizza’ list.
Aunt Lena’s Creamery (Chandler): Ice cream at a hockey game; it’s not all that odd of an idea. But supporting a local business in a professional sports arena is, which is exactly why the team should do it.
There are hundreds more options the team could look at for concessions eaters.
Obviously not all of the concessions should be unique like these are.
However, making a concerted effort to boost local business profiles while ditching crappy chains and showing off what makes Arizona, and the Coyotes, unique would unequivocally enhance an Arizona Coyotes hockey game.
Sep 18, 2015; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils mascot Sparky looks on during the first half against the New Mexico Lobos at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
If you’re going to have ASU pay for some of the arena and play their NCAA D-1 athletics teams in the complex, give them a home court/ice advantage too.
Nobody knows for sure how many ASU teams will be playing at the new stadium, but it would make sense for the men’s and women’s basketball teams and the volleyball team to utilize the two arenas along with the hockey team.
However they end up dividing the spaces, it’s still ASU’s space to use too.
Oct 29, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; A general view of the United Center during the second half between the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers. The Bulls won 118-101. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
If you look at the history of NHL arenas and their current successors, one unifying aspect makes a stadium really rock when the barn is full; the design itself.
The Arizona Coyotes are building upwards with on-ice moves and player development which means that with wins will come more fans.
The move to Tempe will only increase attendance due to accessibility.
Increasing the impact that those fans have on the game will create a positive feedback loop of enthusiasm to play hockey in the desert.
Now if you watch this short documentary (or read to my summary below), you’ll notice that one particular aspect of all these stadiums is very prominent.
The stadiums are/were very vertical.
The Boston Garden, the Montreal Forum, the United Center even; all of these stadiums put the fans on top of the ice and up close even in the upper decks.
The players themselves feel the imposing nature of this design and when it comes down to it in a playoff game, those kinds of fan engagement intangibles can make a huge difference.
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Gila River Arena isn’t a bad view for upper-deckers right now, but putting fans at a higher, albeit safe, angle above the teams playing would make the stadium have a much more intimate setting.
Once the barn was full and home playoff games come around, it would become a real Coyote den to play in.
Imagine how loud the Shark Tank in San Jose gets during playoff runs like in 2016, but with howling Coyotes fans everywhere.
The modern NHL stadium is not just built for a hockey game, but for entertainment and projections, engaging the fans from a half hour before puck drop to the very last second of action.
They aren’t our favorite opponents, but if you have ever been to the United Center for a Blackhawks game, they truly make the game an amazing experience.
The laser projections before the game show off their tradition, their current team, and most importantly, emphasize the importance of their logo.
The animation literally sews in the logo with the history the of team, creating an atmosphere and symbolism that endears the fans in attendance to the home squad even more.
It’s that, and the Hawk’s obnoxiously loud but catchy goal celebration that truly makes 1901 W Madison the Madhouse on Madison.
The Arizona Coyotes have the opportunity, given a new arena, to truly engineer a setup which facilitates this kind of atmosphere.
Now the team certainly cannot tout the history and success of a team like Chicago, but they certainly have the uniqueness of hockey in the desert, a partnership with ASU and the beautiful absurdity that is the old ‘Peyote Coyote’ Kachina logo/uniforms.
In my opinion, having a full ice projection, which Gila River Arena already has, and fitting it to the new arena with enhanced graphics, would make the team’s entrance more exhilarating.
Combine it with a moon undergoing lunar maturity while rising over the team’s entrance as the goalie hits the ice and that seems like a winning production.
Moreover, if you have a massive video screen in arena comparable to Dallas or Tampa Bay’s, the video itself has the production opportunity to be larger and more engaging than the smaller, lower quality screens the team currently has.
The new arena in Tempe will certainly energize a fan base that has felt put down for years due to poor access and constant stadium disputes, as well as a subpar in-arena experience.
If the ownership is truly serious about being attached to Arizona and embracing the state’s unique hockey identity, they should consider one or all of these suggestions as they try to expand the game in a growing non-traditional hockey market.