Arizona Coyotes Rebrand Embraces Hockey Outsider Status

One of the most (over?)used quotes in business is credited to hockey legend Wayne Gretzky: “Skate to where the puck goes, not where it has been.” Steve Jobs said it. Warren Buffett said so. To be clear, it was actually Wayne’s father, Walter Gretzky, who came up with it. Anyway, now the National Hockey League’s Arizona Coyotes are using a new rebrand to apply Gretzky’s advice to their own hockey club and brand.

“Ask yourself, where is? [the puck] go to America? Young, feminine, diverse, tech-savvy and purposeful,” said Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez. “Here I am in Maricopa County, and Phoenix is ​​over 40% Latino. If I don’t embrace that, it’s as much a bad business decision as it is a bad move for hockey.”

Leading the club’s rebranding is a new campaign ad, created with advertising agency MullenLowe LA, that embraces the club’s winterless identity. Forget pond hockey and snow storms. These are desert dust, cacti and lowriders.

Sports teams turning a perceived disadvantage into an attribute is not without precedent. In 2014, the Toronto Raptors launched the “We The North” campaign that took its status as the NBA’s only Canadian outpost — often seen as an Achilles’ heel for attracting top stars — and turned it into a badge of honor before becoming a full-fledged cultural phenomenon. among Canadian hoops fans.

Coyotes vice president of marketing Tania Moreno says the goal here was to pay tribute to Arizona and its people, while bringing new faces to the interpretation of the brand. “You really feel the soul of the desert here,” says Moreno. “All the people in the film are not actors, but real people — local entrepreneurs, players on our local youth team programs, ranchers, artisans — it’s a true representation of Arizona’s diversity.”

Team owner Alex Meruelo bought a majority stake in the team in 2019, becoming the sole Spanish controlling owner of an NHL club. Gutierrez says that while part of the job is to convince the people of Arizona to embrace hockey, to do it, that embrace has to go both ways. “I am often asked whether [the] Latino community and other diverse audiences can embrace hockey, and the answer is yes,” he says. “But it’s hockey that first has to reach out and open the doors. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Arizona NHL hockey began in 1996 when the then-Winnipeg Jets moved south to become the Phoenix Coyotes. From the snowy heart of the fastest game on ice to a hockey desert in every sense of the word. The competition compared the dwindling crowd and population of a mid-sized Canadian city to the booming American Southwest — coupled with the popularity of a Gretzky-led Los Angeles Kings, leading up to and after the Stanley Cup victory in 1993 — and saw pure untapped potential.

The league and the club have been chasing that potential ever since. Even Gretzky himself saw it as where the puck was going when he bought a 10% ownership stake in the club in 2000. Club ownership became a revolving door, however, until the club went bankrupt in 2009 and was supposed to be run by the NHL itself between 2009 and 2013.

As a result of these ownership issues, as well as ongoing rental issues with its arena partners, persistent rumors have circulated for years that the team this almost moving to Portland, Seattle, Quebec City or anywhere other than Arizona. All of this impacted the team’s brand, further increasing the challenge of new marketing efforts.

“We have not been here before and we understand a long history of challenges, uncertainty and instability,” Gutierrez said. “And yet we know for ourselves that there is a line of demarcation that we want to move forward, and these new efforts are part of that. We don’t have the credibility that other teams have with decades of stability and success. I don’t have a Stanley Cup to point to, so we have to start building it. That’s exciting, because we can build it our own way.”

While Meruelo’s ownership has given the club a new sense of stability, as well as a commitment to Arizona, it has not shied away from its own problems. The team was criticized in October 2020 for initially picking Mitchell Miller in the NHL draw, a player who, as a teenager, bullied a black classmate with a developmental delay. The Coyotes eventually cut ties with Miller, but the damage was done. Then in February, the athletic published a story about incidents of financial and occupational dysfunction within the organization.

Gutierrez says the Miller draw was a mistake. “We went down a path, tried to give a young man a second chance, but it didn’t match what he wanted to do, so in the end we decided he didn’t fit who we are or what we stand for,” says Gutiérrez. “We owned the decision, changed course and moved on.”

Addressing the allegations in the athletic story, Gutierrez says Meruelo’s track record as a business owner and his ability to attract and retain talent speak for themselves. He also says the Coyotes boast one of the most diverse staffers in the NHL, which is 45% female, as well as the largest female front office in the league.

The Coyotes’ legacy is not all negative. It also includes establishing a strong youth hockey ecosystem in the area, one that helped childhood Coyotes fan, and current Toronto Maple Leafs star, Auston Matthews, became the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL draw. In September, the club announced that it was harking back to its history – and tapping into the throwback trends of the 90s – by bringing back its original “Kachina” as its primary logo after consultation with fans. In addition to a rebranding, the club is also working to set up a permanent arena owned by the team as the current lease at the Gila River Arena expires after this season.

It was never going to be easy to take over what has traditionally been the NHL’s basketball franchise. But the Coyotes see their rescue as a brand in the place so many in hockey over the years have criticized as a non-hockey market.

“We are stepping into a new identity and inviting our state to really rethink what a hockey team can represent,” said Moreno. “We’re showing people the future of hockey today.”

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