The 1988 decision to build a Phoenix arena in retrospect was not well thought out.
National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman reaffirmed the league’s commitment to the Phoenix market despite the fact that the team may play in a 5,000-seat building for the next few years. Arizona ownership is trying to build an arena-village in Tempe which prompted Bettman to state, “As long as there is a commitment forthcoming for a new building, then it’s going to be worth sticking with.” Phoenix has been a problem market since the league approved the transfer of the Winnipeg Jets franchise to the area in 1996. The problem can be traced back to years before the NHL put a team in Phoenix. It started in the mid-1980s when Phoenix city officials decided they needed a new arena for Jerry Colangelo’s National Basketball Association’s Suns.
Had the Phoenix city council been smart, they would have approved a multi-purpose arena that would have accommodated the Suns and an NHL team. Instead, lawmakers approved a $90 million expenditure that was designed to appease Colangelo. The arena was built in such a way that the building was only good for basketball, not hockey or other sports which severely limited the potential revenues that could be generated. The building Phoenix politicians funded in 1988 had more than 3,000 view-obstructed seats or about 25 percent of the house for hockey. In 1999, the hockey team’s ownership was hoping to move the team to Scottsdale. In 2001, Glendale officials put up $180 million for a building with the hope that people would travel to Glendale which is a lengthy trip from Phoenix. The venture never worked and the hockey franchise is ending its Glendale stay following this season. The Suns ownership today wants no part of the NHL in the municipally built and renovated Phoenix arena. Politicians wrecked the Phoenix hockey market.
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