As the Coyotes continue to evolve with new ownership and new personnel, the team’s president suggested another new opportunity could be in store: an NHL outdoor game in Arizona, possibly at Sun Devil Stadium.
During the Coyotes’ town hall meeting June 28, team president and CEO Ahron Cohen said he liked the idea of the Winter Classic, or another outdoor game, coming to the Valley.
“I don’t think there is a better location than Sun Devil Stadium for an outdoor game,” Cohen said.
The Winter Classic’s first game was in 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home to the Buffalo Bills. Since the addition of outdoor games (the Winter Classic, the Heritage Classic and the Stadium Series), eight teams that still have not had the chance to play in one of the NHL’s newest series.
Arizona wouldn’t be the first warm-weather state to host an outdoor game. The Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings met at Dodger Stadium in 2014, and the Kings and San Jose Sharks played at Northern California’s Levi Stadium in 2015. The Dallas Stars will play in the 2020 Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl and face the Nashville Predators.
The process of deciding where an outdoor game is played can take over a year, said Steve Mayer, the NHL’s executive vice president of events and content.
“In terms of the process, we explore over the course of the year numerous venues and opportunities and check out the viability to do an outdoor game (there),” Mayer said. “We look at proper venues, time of the year, weather. Arizona is extremely warm and that is something we would have to take into account.”
The league hasn’t officially looked into Arizona, Mayer said, although Cohen admitted he has been “lobbying in the commissioner’s ear all the time.” In the past, the Coyotes have suggested hosting an outdoor game around the Super Bowl.
Although warm weather would be a challenge, the NHL has a sophisticated mobile ice-making system. The average highs and lows in Phoenix during January are 68 degrees and 45 degrees, respectively, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“(We’re) getting better and making ice in extreme temperatures,” Mayer said. “It has to be a factor in looking at the warmer places.”
A major factor in the possible arrival of the Winter Classic in Arizona is securing a commitment from a football stadium’s operators to halt football for nearly a month.
“For the Winter Classic, if you are to play a venue that houses the NFL team, they would have to move out,” Mayer said. “We need the venue for over three weeks.”
Sun Devil Stadium doesn’t host NFL games anymore but has recently expanded its use outside of college games.
Cohen sees great value in the possibility of an outdoor game.
“I think what you have seen is these (outdoor games) now are a tremendous economic provider for the entire community and they bring in tourists and it’s just great for the entire community,” Cohen said.
The league and the Coyotes haven’t had official discussions but the possibility remains, Mayer said.
“Never say never to any team,” he said.