HOUSTON (KIAH) — The pain of Arizona Coyotes fans has led to excitement for hockey fans in Houston.
After the first release of results from Tuesday’s referendum, voters in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe were strongly against three propositions to build a $2.3 billion entertainment district that would include a new arena for the Coyotes.
With around 56% of the votes, opposition to the three propositions has led to the Coyotes’ hopes of staying in Arizona to be dire.
“The National Hockey League is terribly disappointed by the results of the public referendum regarding the Coyotes’ arena project in Tempe,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “We are going to review with the Coyotes what the options might be going forward.”
And with that statement, relocation could be an option for the Coyotes. And Houston is a strong option for a landing spot for the team, along with cities like Kansas City, Salt Lake City, Atlanta and Quebec City.
Houston, which is the largest market in the U.S. without an NHL team, has a strong hockey history, dating back to the 1970s, when hockey legend Gordie Howe played for the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association at the Summit. Another version of the Aeros also played in the 1990s as a member of the International Hockey League.
Toyota Center is a hockey-ready arena that has hosted the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League from 2003 to 2013, when the team relocated to Iowa. But the team left not because of low attendance (Houston was in the top 12 in AHL attendance every year), but because of skyrocketing rent costs.
Now, Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta, who also owns Toyota Center, has expressed interest in owning an NHL franchise. But if the Coyotes were to move to Houston and play at Toyota Center, either they would have to pay Fertitta rent or Fertitta would have to become at the least a part-owner of the team.
Fertitta also may have to make some possible renovations to the arena to make it NHL-ready after league officials called a tour of Toyota Center, “underwhelmed,” according to Sportsnet.
But the Coyotes and the NHL could be desperately trying to find a long-term home for a team that has struggled to find a new home for several years.
The team shared a downtown Phoenix arena with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns after relocating from Winnipeg in 1996, then moved to Glendale’s Gila River Arena in 2003. But the Coyotes had a troubled tenure in the Phoenix suburb.
Then-owner Jerry Moyes took the Coyotes into bankruptcy in 2009 and Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie put in a bid to purchase the team with the intention of moving it to Hamilton, Ontario.
The NHL, wanting to keep the team in Arizona, put in a counter bid and a Phoenix judge ruled the team could not be sold to Balsillie to circumvent the NHL’s relocation rules.
The league ran the Coyotes for four seasons and the financial constraints took a toll, leading in part to a seven-year playoff drought.
A new ownership group brought new hope in 2013 but turmoil surfaced again in 2015, when the city of Glendale backed out of a long-term, multimillion-dollar lease agreement. The Coyotes leased the arena on an annual basis until Glendale announced it was terminating the contract after the 2021-22 season.
The franchise found a temporary solution, working out a deal to share Arizona State’s Mullett Arena for three seasons. The Mullett has a capacity of 5,000 and is by far the smallest home arena in the NHL.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.