The Case for AHL in Tucson

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Rumors swirl that the Coyotes want Tucson to be the home of their AHL affiliate but can it work? Before we begin let’s state the obvious the University of Arizona Wildcats are king in Tucson, period end of discussion. However that doesn’t mean that other non-wildcat sports can’t survive and even thrive. It just means that careful consideration must be taken to make sure that those with enough disposable income/hockey interest will go see/pay for minor league hockey. Let’s begin with the obvious, yes Tucson lost its spring training and minor league affiliate. (Without going into a long rehash of history this is the gist of it) However Tucson had a long history of supporting it’s minor league affiliate. Before the albatross of Kino Veteran’s Stadium was built next to the psych hospital, across the street from juvenile courts and junk yards, the minor league played in central Tucson at Hi Corbett Field. Nestled in a beautiful neighborhood and next to Reid Park, the Tucson Toros flourished for nearly 40 years for multiple MLB teams. That all ended when the Diamondbacks bought the Toros, moved them to the Southside and renamed the Sidewinders. The thing was, fans didn’t come with them. From being near everything and everyone to basically in the middle of an industrial park, didn’t appeal to the fans. The Sidewinders were a decent team but their attendance numbers kept sliding. Even a Pacific Coast League Championship couldn’t help. In the end they left for Reno soon after that championship. So now that the ugly history is over lets move forward shall we? Now the coyotes what to expand the fan base and bringing their minor league affiliate to the state’s second largest metro (pop ~1 million) made the most sense. Tucson has had hockey here in many forms from college club to independent leagues since the early 70’s. The Wildcat Club hockey has been the only constant. The independent leagues never lasted, most folded within a year or two. The difference with an AHL affiliate is that it would be tied to the big club in Glendale. More money for advertising, more excitement surround these young players. With many transplants from colder areas who moved or winter in Tucson, they would be would be excited to see near NHL level hockey. Also a large contingent of Coyote fans do live in Tucson and being able to see the up and comers would allow them to feel more included. The more than incentive to bring people to Downtown Tucson. Location as stated above would be downtown at the Tucson Convention Center arena. The facility holds roughly 6500 for hockey. The facility was recently updated, new lighting, sound, bathrooms, seats, concessions and entry. More renovations would need to be done to bring up to AHL standards. In the past most Tucsonans avoided downtown as it had deteriorated for more than 30 years due to urban decay. However in the last 5 years downtown has after many stop and starts been revitalized. A new streetcar connecting the University of Arizona to the west side passes right in front of the convention center. Bringing with it nearly 100 million in reinvestment, most towards the east end of downtown. The west end where the convention sits is coming along but has taken more time. Since the music venues are towards the east, more foot traffic stays over there. A more regular event on the west end will drive foot traffic. A new hotel across from the convention center is already moving forward. The biggest advantage that the arena has is its central location in the region. Right along the interstate, connection the suburbs, Marana to the north, Sahuarita to the south. Arterial streets Oracle (north), Broadway, (east) and 6th streets (east), all end up in the vicinity of the TCC. The arena has plenty of parking. Office space for team offices can be found right next door at the La Placita center. Their are many companies big and small that would be willing to sponsor. Even two indian tribes one which is already a big sponsor of the Wildcat hockey team. The biggest reason though, as I said above, people want go to downtown again giving them more reasons to do so is beneficial to the city as a whole. A vibrant downtown makes the whole region look and feel better. So I’ve sold you right? Oh, problems? Yeah there is only really one giant one. There is no yearlong ice rink in Tucson. There hasn’t been since the ice-o-plex closed in 2007. The wildcat hockey team has to go to Chandler to practice when the arena is in use. Even during the season the ice isn’t always there. Right now the arena sits empty with no ice, waiting until November to get ready again for hockey season or until Disney on Ice shows up. That is where we hit the biggest bump in the road. A facility must be built and quick, for the team to use. In addition to being used for the team it’s assumed that the public will also be able to use the rink. Reintroducing the region to ice skating would really push more interest towards hockey and in the end become Coyotes fans hopefully. The solution to this problem is not easy or cheap. Rumblings of a new rink in town has popped up but not come to fruition. Yet if the coyotes are really considering Tucson, they must have a solution to this problem. What that may be is something that many are wondering. So what are the odds that Tucson lands the AHL affiliate? High but some hurdles are out of the hands of the Coyotes. The Tucson City Council is said to be receptive to the idea and has had conversations with the Coyotes, a potentially big hurdle is, to bring a team to Tucson you need to own one. The coyotes don’t own their affiliate, as of today the Portland Pirates have entered into an agreement with the Florida Panthers beginning next season. There aren’t any AHL teams for sale as of right now. Rumors are swirling about what may happen. A stop gap measure has been rumored, but is likely, that the Coyotes may sign a one-year agreement with the San Antonio Rampage, who were affiliated with the Panthers, until they can get a team to move. With time running out to make a move for next season we shall soon find out what path the coyotes take. AHL in Tucson is no slam-dunk but done right it can succeed.

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