Ryan Smith successfully purchases Coyotes, brings NHL to Utah

Reading Time: 5 minutes Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith has purchased the Arizona Coyotes of the NHL and will relocate the team immediately to Utah.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

It is happening. Utah will get its third professional sports team, as the National Hockey League (NHL) will come to Salt Lake City. 

Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith has successfully purchased the Arizona Coyotes from Alex Meruleo, who became the first Latino owner in the NHL in 2019. The reported purchase price of the Coyotes is around$1.2-$1.3 billion. Meruleo will receive $1 billion of that, and the rest of the money will be split between $200-$300 million between the other NHL owners as a relocation fee that Smith will pay directly. 

Smith is not buying the Coyotes directly from Meruleo; it is instead the NHL who will buy it and sell essentially a new team to Smith who will keep the team as a whole. The goal was to keep Meruleo happy as the NHL is anticipating giving Arizona a team in the near future. 

So how did we get here? 

Ultimately, the Coyotes were forced to move to Mullett Arena on the campus of Arizona State University, which holds just 5,000 people, from the Gila River Arena at the end of 2021. 

In 2023, Meruleo proposed to move the team to Tempe and promoted a $2.1 billion arena, but the public voted against it. The uncertainty forced Meruleo to sell the team as the NHL did not support the idea of playing in the Mullett Arena for much longer as it affected their finances. 

The Coyotes will open the 2024 season in the Delta Center, the home of the Utah Jazz. However, it was contingent that if Smith were to purchase the team, he would have to build a new arena that would be able to support the needs of a hockey-specific franchise. The Delta Center typically holds 20,000, but only 14,000 can fit in the stadium for ice hockey-specific events. Even if the team were to sell out every game, it would rank second to last in attendance based on the 2023-2024 season analytics. 

Smith teased that this was in the works at the end of February when he tweeted a plan for a new downtown development that would support a hockey team. 

This showed what a revitalized arena and downtown sporting could look like with public support. 

Smith Entertainment Group (SEG)PR formally requested an NHL expansion to Utah at the end of January per KSL Sports. This led to the NHLPR account on X to tweet about the potential expansion: “The NHL appreciates the interest expressed by Smith Entertainment Group to bring NHL hockey to Utah. During conversations over the course of the past two years, we have been impressed by Ryan and Ashley Smith’s commitment to their community and their passion and vision for Utah, not only as a hockey market but as a preeminent sports and entertainment destination. Utah is a promising market, and we look forward to continuing our discussions.”  

From the beginning, the plan was to have Salt Lake City be an expansion opportunity, rather than a relocation option. The failure of the proposed plan by Muerelo allowed SEG to take advantage of the opportunity and bring the NHL to Utah. 

While there had been rumors that the Coyotes were going to be the team Smith would purchase, the media team of the Arizona Coyotes was not on board.  

While there had been rumors that the Coyotes were going to be the team Smith would purchase, the media team of the Arizona Coyotes was not on board. 

Coyotes or bust? 

The hot topic between members of the state of Utah is whether the team will rebrand and change their name or keep it as the Coyotes. 

Smith tweeted on April 8 wanting users to submit potential names for the new NHL team and attached a survey for participants to submit their ideas. 

Colby Sanders (@colby_colonel on X) released potential logos, uniforms, and team names to gauge interest. His most popular was the “Sasquatch” which has now become the “Yeti” which seems to be the favorite among X users right now. Sanders’ ideas have ranged from Scorpions, Serpents, Stingers, Elk, and even Jazz-themed kits for the new NHL team. 

All of these designs were created by Sanders, and you can find all of his work here. 

Another question has been if Utah can support an NHL team and an NBA team during the same season. The short answer, yes. 

The Jazz have been one of the better attendance-rated teams in the NBA over the last four years. This season, the Jazz ranked 14th in total attendance while averaging 18,206 fans per game, which is 99.45% of potential attendance per game. 2018-2023 had the same attendance rate, if not higher. 2023 was the same at 18,206, 2022 filled every seat every game at 18,306, 2020 was the same, 2019 and 2018 all filled 100% of seats. 

Yes, the state of Utah can support both an NHL team and an NBA team during the same season. The state of Utah is extremely passionate about its sports teams between college programs and professional teams like Real Salt Lake and the Jazz.  

Finally, what does this mean for the future of the state? 

Well, the hope is the new NHL team leads to a Major League Baseball (MLB) expansion to Utah. Big League Utah is an ownership group led by the former Jazz ownership team, the Larry H. Miller Company led by Larry’s wife Gail Miller after his passing in 2009. The ownership group released the potential plan for a ballpark to be built in the Power District of Salt Lake City, which is also a potential site for Smith to build the new arena for the Jazz/Coyotes. 

It is hard to emphasize how huge this is without being able to verbally say it. This is arguably the biggest thing to happen to Utah since the 2002 Olympics and will be the biggest thing to happen until an MLB team comes or the next Olympics in 2034. 

It is fully expected for the team to be rebranded as the reported deal with Meruleo and the NHL was that if he were to agree to sell the team, he would own the naming rights to the Coyotes in addition to; branding, name, logos, and anything related to the team. The goal is to bring hockey back to Arizona, just under better ownership.