John Shipley from the St. Paul Pioneer Press on the crowd, or the lack thereof, at Thursday night's Wild-Coyotes game at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Arizona:
And finally, there is talk here about the Coyotes getting out of their Jobing.com Arena lease and being relocated back to Winnipeg, and after seeing the crowd that showed up Thursday it’s not hard to believe.
The crowd was announced at 13,296, but that was considerably more people than were actually in seats. The lower bowl wasn’t half filled, and the upper deck wasn’t one-third full.
It doesn’t help that this place is part of an unappetizing development at the edge of the metropolitan area. Westgate City Center also includes the Arizona Cardinals’ stadium, but it’s essentially a real estate deal that appears ready to die, a couple of acres' worth of restaurants, bars and shops wrapped in billboards and noise.
You walk in and think, “It looks like Donald Trump threw up in here.” And on a night without a game, it isn’t exactly hopping -- like the set of a post-apocalyptic movie.
Having attended two Wild-Coyotes games here in 2006-07, I can agree with Shipley 100%. The Westgate project was risky when money was easy. Now, with the USA in a severe recession, and tens of thousands laid off from every major industry, this project sticks out like a sore thumb. (It did anyway: you can see it from 3-4 miles away, once you go past the junkyards.) There are finally -- four years after the Westgate project was started -- hotels near the stadium. The problem? There aren't enough of them. Only two so far. Same for pretty much everything else out there. The Valley of the Sun is so spread out, that it takes a LONG time to get anywhere of consequence. Public Transit? Yeah, right. The words 'Phoenix' and 'public transit' go together like oil and water. And never the twain shall meet...
The LA Dodgers and Chicago White Sox will move their spring training to Glendale in 2010. But that's six weeks out of 52. The Cardinals? Ten dates, plus the occasional Super Bowl and every-other-decade playoff appearance. Throw in concerts, trade shows, etc., you may get 80-90 days' use of that area. The rest of the year, every thing is still out there, drying up in the Arizona sun. The area is a bear to get into, and a bitch to get out of after events (especially the Cardinals' games). There is no direct way from Westgate to Downtown Phoenix, which means you drive some distance before to get to turn towards Mesa, Scottsdale, Apache Jct., in other words, where the REAL money is in Arizona.
How much would Winnipeg give the Coyotes to come back? They probably could name their terms. And, in hockey-crazed Manitoba, the thought of the Jets returning makes for excellent speculation. How fun would it be to have the Wild and Winnipeg in the same division? A rivalry game we could actually attend without a three-hour flight to the West Coast or the edge of the Arctic Circle?
The currently 13,769-seat MTS Centre, designed to be expanded when an NHL team came calling, is 'small' by the Bettman-esque NHL standards, but would be a very good fit for the Coyotes, who would be able to considerably cut their operating costs just by moving closer to the rest of the hockey world than in the middle of the Arizona desert. And, with a salary cap now in place, the question of 'cost certainty', which was one of the major stumbling blocks to keeping the Jets in Manitoba in the first place, would be eliminated.
What would be better for the Coyotes organization? To play in front of 1/3-to-1/2 full home crowds, mostly made up of ex-pats from your opponents' city? Or an arena full of your fans, from your area, in a much more hockey-conducive environment? Do the Coyotes want to continue to be 5th fiddle in the Phoenix market, or be the 'whale in the swimming pool' in a market where you don't have to explain the concept of 'icing' or the 'power play'?
I can't wait to go back to Winnipeg for NHL hockey again...
WRT (who attended Jets' games at the old Winnipeg Arena)