When the Arizona Coyotes announced almost a year ago that they would be playing their home games for the coming seasons at Arizona State University’s then-unnamed multi-purpose arena – set to seat roughly 5000 – my first thought was that it was ridiculous. My second was that I had to see it.
Supporters of the plan for the Coyotes playing up to four seasons in a college rink have often cited the atmosphere that a small arena would provide. With so few seats, the idea was seemingly that every game would be a sell out of die-hard Coyotes fans, with a raucous group of ASU students in the bleachers at the arena’s west end.
That was not the case with Tuesday’s Red Wings – Coyotes matchup.
Anecdotally-speaking, it appeared to me that at least half of the arena was supporting Detroit. This despite the fact that Ticketmaster limited sales to the counties immediately surrounding Tempe.
I heard second-hand that student tickets weren’t sold because this was (unsurprisingly) a high-demand game. Even with the game having been given that designation, Section 120 in particular was mostly empty. There were empty seats all through Section 101. The seat next to mine was empty, as were others across the arena.
In the past, we’ve been told that the reason for empty seats at Coyotes games is that the franchise’s fanbase is mostly in the East Valley and unwilling to drive all the way out to Glendale, where the team’s now-former home is located. If arena location is still an issue in Tempe, it bodes poorly for the team’s proposed future home about six miles down the road.
There may be nights where it’s a packed house of Arizona die-hards but on this particular Tuesday night in January, it wasn’t.
As such, the atmosphere – expected to make this experience worthwhile – was nothing special. It was no different from a Detroit loss in Seattle in February. Or, perhaps more concerning, a Red Wings win while visiting the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009.
But maybe this game was the exception.
As for the arena itself… It’s nice. It’s new. There’s something to be said for new. The seating bowl is comfortable and shiny. The concourses, such as they are, are college-level. It felt a lot like Michigan State University’s Munn Ice Arena, except with a higher ceiling (which, to be honest, would be a massive improvement for Munn). So it’s a fine place to watch a game but hardly revolutionary.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. If NHL hockey in college rinks were the event some people have made the Coyotes’ tenancy at Mullett Arena out to be, the Wings would be playing games at Munn or Yost or Lawson. They don’t because they know it’s less than ideal.
That’s what my takeaway comes back to. Yes, it’s a college rink, there’s no way to hide it. No, the atmosphere doesn’t make up for it. It’s less than ideal.
Almost twenty years in Glendale were less than ideal. Four more at ASU will be less than ideal. In another market, that much “less than ideal” might might have meant the team’s departure. Here, less than ideal is finally supposed to only be temporary. Tempe voters will decide in May whether the team will get to build a more-permanent home. Maybe that one will finally be ideal.