A tale of two desert teams, the Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes

The Arizona Coyotes had another misstep for their hopes of bringing hockey back to Phoenix. How did the Vegas Golden Knights make desert hockey work?
Vegas Golden Knights v Arizona Coyotes
Vegas Golden Knights v Arizona Coyotes / Zac BonDurant/GettyImages
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The Vegas Golden Knights have built themselves as the modern model of consistency. They've won a Stanley Cup and made two Stanley Cup Finals appearances in their seven-year history. They have the best winning percentage in playoff history (.600) and have acquired the NHL's best players. That's led to an outpouring of support from Las Vegas, with the city embracing them as their first professional team from the four major leagues. Thank you, Bill Foley!

Compare that to the Arizona Coyotes, whose dreams of a new arena were shattered when the Arizona State Land Management canceled their land auction for June 27. Based in north Phoenix, the land would've given the now-defunct franchise the first step needed to re-enter the NHL.

It's one of many missteps from the former NHL team, who've had numerous issues with running their operations. That included bankruptcy, violating conflict of interest laws in their arena lease, and scaling their zoned land wrong. Hey, they can try producing the next Matthew Tkachuk or Auston Matthews, right?

It's as if hockey in the desert is a cursed project. There's no way a freezing-cold game can succeed in an arid temperature. At least, that's what traditional minds want you to believe. The success of the Vegas Golden Knights has blown these same minds. So what made the Golden Knights successful compared to the Arizona Coyotes? How is it that the Coyotes can't do anything right?

The Vegas Golden Knights got the arena right

For one, they had the second-highest crowd capacity in the NHL this regular season (103.6, only behind the Minnesota Wild). Being a wildly successful team will draw a crowd wherever you go, whether it's Las Vegas or Boston. Win big hockey games and the fans will come in droves.

While Arizona can say the same thing, they were in a college hockey arena that seated 4,600 from 2022 to 2024. It's like moving Manchester United to a high school soccer (or football, for all you Europeans) stadium that seats 800 people. It's easy to make such a claim when your middling franchise plays in a bandbox.

So what did Bill Foley and Vegas do? First, they got the arena right on the first try. They got it privately funded and set up on the Las Vegas Strip. Here, it would also be the new de facto home for the UFC, with numerous pay-per-views coming to the place. Even Foley went out of his way to say that tax money was better spent on public services and not stadiums (hear that, John Fisher?).

What about the Arizona Coyotes, who moved from Winnipeg to a stadium with obstructing views? They went to Glendale where they violated conflict of interest laws and got kicked out. Then, Alex Meruelo and company went on to the college hockey arena before selling the team and leaving the scraps. Building a good rapport starts with getting the arena right. That way, ownership isn't scrambling to find a new home every decade. Speaking of ownership...