Coyotes introduce new majority owner

Alex Meruelo, middle, flanked by Coyotes President and CEO Ahron Cohen and general manager John Chayka, was introduced as the team’s new majority owner at Gila River Arena.

While many young American kids grow up dreaming of playing in the big leagues, Alex Meruelo’s goals were a bit different. He wanted to be the owner of a professional sports team.

Now, his lifelong aspiration has come true. On August 1, the Arizona Coyotes held a press conference to introduce the reported billionaire with business ventures such as casinos, media, restaurants, a bank and more as its new owner.

“It’s been a dream of mine since I was 6, 8 years old — knowing it would be very difficult — that I would succeed, and here I am. I want to tell everybody (I’m) a Hispanic kid from Brooklyn, New York. So, if I can do it, anyone can do it.”

Meruelo, 55, is the son of Cuban immigrants, making him the first Hispanic majority owner in NHL history. He said the title comes with a lot of gratitude — much of his family attended the press conference and cheered nearly his every word — but also pressure as a trailblazer into hockey culture.

An issue Arizona has had, though, is reaching people with similar backgrounds to his.

“We haven’t done a good job of reaching out to the Hispanic community,” Coyotes President and CEO Ahron Cohen said of a demographic that makes up about 42.5% of the Phoenix metropolitan area, according to a recent U.S. Census report.

Meruelo acknowledged that a larger Hispanic following could increase sales, something he believes the team needs.

He said it is “not a secret” that the Coyotes have had recent financial struggles. However, he explained he has history of taking dying or unsuccessful businesses — in far worse state than he said the Coyotes are — and making them profitable.

Another main problem the team faces financially is where it will play home games. Rumors have swirled about moves to Tempe or other areas in the past few years, but the team has remained in Glendale thus far. Meruelo would not say whether he plans to stay in Glendale, move to a different location in the Valley or create a whole new stadium entirely. But he wants to stay somewhere close by.

“I’m very committed to this state, to the Valley, to the fans of Arizona, to the team of Arizona and residents of Arizona,” Meruelo said. “I’m committed to staying here and will do everything in my heart and hard work to make sure to make it viable.”

And, he had a quick response for anybody doubting his ability to turn the situation around.

“I was told the same thing when I bought by first casino in Reno. I was told by the mayor, I was told by four casino owners I would never make it work, the property was losing $30 million a year and I wouldn’t last a year,” Meruelo said.

“They were all wrong. I’ve been there eight years and I have the most profitable casino, I think, of Reno.”

Now with the pageantry behind him, Meruelo said he is focused on fostering a culture that results in more victories and competing for a league championship. He has kept much of the major staff in place, including coach Rick Tocchet and general manager John Chayka, seemingly trusting their vision and just providing different financial backing.

He acknowledged that the news conference was just his first day, and he has a long way to go to gain the trust of fans and the local community. He promised he will do everything in his power to accomplish that goal.

“I sure as (expletive) want to win,” he said.

“My goal here with the rest of the team, the executives, the players, the coaches — I will not stop until we bring a Stanley Cup to the Valley,” he later added. “That is my goal, my commitment and hopefully my promise to keep to all of you guys.”  

— Cronkite News contributed to this report.