Coyotes, fans bid farewell to Gila River

The Arizona Coyotes' tenure at Gila River Arena has come to an end. (File photo)

When the final horn sounded at the end of the Arizona Coyotes and Nashville Predators game on Friday, April 29, it was more than just the end of the Coyotes’ 2021-22 season.

It wrapped up a tumultuous relationship between the team and the city of Glendale — and fans have a mixed response about the breakup.

“I thought it was stupid,” said Jerry Reyes, a longtime Coyotes fan who lives in Peoria.

“Granted, Arizona hasn’t had the best success in a while, but this is where people come. If you look at the crowds here, there’s a lot of people to support the team. I think it’s a mistake. It’s sad to see them go. I was very upset to hear the news.”

North Valley resident Tony Miller, who has also attended Coyotes games for a decade, was baffled by the city’s decision. He worries about the potential negative economic impact associated with losing a professional sports team as a tenant at Westgate.

“I thought that it was the stupidest thing in the world,” Miller said. “This is going to be used for a handful of concerts and other events instead of having it used for 41-plus games a year? All the revenue for these restaurants is going to suffer; stores and everything, too. So, I think it’s going to put a damper on the economy here in Glendale, but that’s their decision.”

Sara Maldonado of Buckeye, who attended her first Coyotes game several years ago and became a fan of the sport, was also surprised at the city’s willingness to end the relationship. However, she also acknowledged that fault can be found on both sides.

“I guess they’ve had some squabbles in the past about rent and stuff like that,” Maldonado said. “So, it’s not a good look for either one of them.”

In an official statement from August 2021, the city cited “an increased focus on larger, more impactful events and uses of the city-owned arena” as the reasoning behind the move.

In February, the Coyotes found a temporary solution to stay in the Valley, but it left the West Valley behind. The club struck a deal with ASU to share the school’s new multipurpose arena, located over 25 miles east in Tempe. The Coyotes will temporarily play in the 5,000-seat arena from fall 2022 to spring 2025. There is also an option included for the team to play the 2025-26 season in the building as well.

On top of increased ticket prices, West Valley fans like Reyes will now have to consider the longer commute, and high gas prices, before deciding to go to a game.

“I literally grew up 3 miles away from here,” Reyes said. “It was cool. … If it was a night where I just wanted to watch a game, I would just take a bus here. It was great.”

Because of his North Valley location, Miller isn’t worried about the change in commute, as it will be roughly the same distance. However, he is unsure if he will be able to continue taking his children to as many games due to cost.

“It’s probably going to be hard, just because the demand is going to be high and the supply of seats is going to be low,” Miller said. “But, we will try to get to a couple, I’m sure.”

Although she resides in Buckeye, Maldonado said the relatively new addition to the Loop 202 may persuade her to make the journey to the East Valley.

“It might make it a little bit easier for sure,” Maldonado said. “If there’s a good game that we see coming up, we might go at least once a year or something like that.”

A new, uncertain chapter now begins for the Coyotes. Tempe will welcome the team to town beginning this fall, but there are still no permanent plans in place beyond the next few years. The two sides are discussing a new $1.7 billion entertainment district near Tempe Town Lake. If the plan comes to fruition, a new state-of-the-art arena and various other entertainment attractions will be constructed.

While disappointed with the move away from Glendale, Reyes is ultimately optimistic about a deal going through, which would keep the Coyotes in the Valley for, presumably, decades to come.

“I’m excited,” Reyes said. “An arena with a city that actually wants to have a professional team there. I think Glendale was great. We have State Farm Stadium, Gila River Arena and Westgate here. I think it’s perfect. But at least (Tempe) will be a city that wants to keep them.”