Coyotes Necessary for Westgate Success


iStar financial has announce that they will be sticking around and retaining Westgate in Glendale. They will be working on rebranding it as the “Westgate Entertainment District”. This is great news, but some facets of their arguments don’t add up, or at least as their arguments were presented by one of the local anti-Coyotes web sites.

A senior VP (Sotolov) of iStar has said that iStar has had discussions with prospective Coyotes buyer (Nostradamus predicts removing the “prospective” adjective before the end of October, 2012) and stated that, while they would like the Coyotes to remain as the anchor tenant of Westgate, they won’t be basing their business model on it. That’s fine, and maybe more negotiating bravado than actual marketing strategy.

Sotolov IS stating that he is basing his strategy on two numbers, it seems. He is projecting 5 million visitors a year to the new Tanger outlet mall and adding that number to the 3 million visitors who shop at Cabela’s across Glendale Avenue. That’s 8 million people a year Solotov is counting on to increase the foot traffic to Westgate. He is apparently not impressed with the numbers generated by the stadium and arena.

Facts Is Facts, Right?

The writer goes on to explain that 8 million dwarfs the number of people that come to the Westgate area for hockey and football games. He states that 509,000 people attended 41 regular season hockey games and 489,000 fans attended 8 regular season Cardinals games. I won’t dispute those numbers, so let’s use the total of 998,000 people coming to Westgate for hockey and football as a base to begin our more balanced if not less biased mathematics. When I say not less biased, fair warning I am a Coyotes fan and have looked at the numbers in and around Westgate and the hockey club for over three years now. I honestly believe the Coyotes at arena for the next twenty or so years is the perfect answer to the fiscal problems the City of Glendale (CoG) has wrought upon itself.

We should speculate whether the people who go to Cabela’s (where food is available) will get back in their cars to ride over to Westgate for any further entertainment or shopping or, once in their cars, will just head home to play with their new cool outdoor gear they scored at Cabela’s. Having travelled on foot (such as I can) with the family from Westgate to Cabela’s and back, I don’t think it’s conducive to casual foot traffic crossing over from one place to the other without some significant foot traffic flow modifications. The same goes for Tanger, although since the mall is closer to Westgate and there probably won’t be food and beverages available beyond a modest food court I imagine there would be significantly more crossover.

I am no expert in these things and the iStar people purportedly are, I am fairly certain that there is a significant difference in the mindset of a football or hockey fan when deciding what to do before and after their game. I submit that hockey and football fans (and of course concertgoers and the like) who are out for a game or an event are significantly more likely to sit down at a restaurant for some time spending money than those people looking for a great deal on a Coach bag. I do have expertise at attending hockey games.

I am not that familiar with events at University of Phoenix (UOP) stadium. One thing I am CERTAIN of is that including ONLY the people attending the 8 regular season Cardinals games in any count for any argument about the economic impact of sports on the immediate area is ludicrous. Even if we excuse the omission of the additional events at UOP as ignorance rather than ambivalence, we should be able to come up with some conservative numbers to add to the 489,000 people admitted to by the author of the piece. We can start with the 2012 Fiesta Bowl which brought in 69,927 people, upping the new total to 558,927. You see the point, I have never researched the numbers for UOP before, yet it took me a few Google minutes to come up with a MORE correct number than was provided in a “reputable” article, a number that was implicitly used in an argument to be dismissive of the impact of sports to the area. I did not find a convenient place to find out how many people attended concerts, Cirque de Soleil, RV shows, home shows, gun shows and all the other events at UOP this year.

I won’t even guess how wrong the attendance figures presented were. I don’t have the same burden of proof, so to speak, that a reporter has. Simply grabbing one attendance number from Google and using it in an article intended to inform people about what is happening with Westgate is irresponsible and lazy. But, since it’s not my job and I have to get back to work, I won’t take the time to make a few calls for the ACTUAL attendance numbers for 2012, I’ll just go with the above number which I KNOW is extremely low, yet still significantly higher than the number offered in a soon to be oft-tweeted article.

What About The Coyotes?

The fact of the matter is that, this past season, the Coyotes had the WORST attendance in the NHL, there is no arguing that fact. Reasons abound, not the least of which was the lack of an interested owner. The “product” on the ice, the play of the team, remained spectacular for their overachieving fight and ambition. Led by a superb coaching staff, including both perennial non-smiler head coach Dave Tippett and perennial smiler goalie whisperer Sean Burke; the Coyotes managed to pull far past everybody’s expectations. Important to the “numbers” for any sports team, but particularly a hockey team because of the greater number of games played in the playoffs versus regular season, is the likelihood of the team making it into the playoffs on a regular basis.

The Coyotes have made the playoffs three seasons in a row. This year, the Coyotes won the Pacific Division Championship. Therefore, the likelihood of them becoming a regular force to be reckoned with, and thus consistently selling lots of playoff tickets, is very high. So, let’s continue coming up with the correct attendance numbers for arena that is directly related to the Coyotes hockey club, since these are the numbers that would immediately go to ZERO, with no chance of debate, should the Coyotes vacate the arena for any reason.

This past season the Coyotes played nine playoff games at arena. Every one of these games was sold out, including some standing room tickets which I will not include just to keep the arguments at bay. So, nine games times 17,150 people equals 154,350. Add that to the 509,000 for a total of 663,350 people that entered Westgate because the Coyotes play at arena. That is a lot of people, even if it pales in comparison to the projected 5 million people that will visit Tanger Outlets once opened.

Jeff Teetsel (owner of Teetsel Properties LLC which manages Westgate) has stated to CM Joyce Clark that there are many businesses waiting to come into Westgate as soon as they have an assurance that the Coyotes stay. While the story in question mentions the fact that Sotolov made a very similar statement, there was no mention that the Coyotes were an integral part of that decision. In fact, the tone of the story was to negate the importance of sports to the Westgate complex. It seems Mr. Teetsel, who arguably has a good finger on the pulse of business in Westgate, begs to differ and is happy to point out that the Coyotes mean a lot to Westgate.

Real And Projected

Now let’s add the 558,927 football people coming to Westgate to the 663,350 hockey people coming to Westgate to arrive at a conservative total of 1,222,277 people. Let’s round that down to 1.2 million. Still, one can argue that 1.2 million people STILL is significantly less than 5 million, and it is. However, there is also a huge difference between real numbers and projected numbers. AT LEAST 1.2 million people showed up in the Westgate vicinity to see professional sports, half of them to see hockey.

I submit that if Mr. Sotolov is actually willing to dismiss 1.2 million people cruising the vicinity of one of his properties, he may be in the wrong business. If he is not including the Coyotes as part of the business model for Westgate, he is potentially leaving a lot of money on the table. Of course it’s possible that the writer of the story crafted the quotes from Mr. Sotolov to make it appear that he is dismissing the Coyotes as an “it would be nice to have” option like cruise control on a car when, in fact, he is actually basing a good deal of his economic model on having a reliable stream of 660,000 people or more coming to Westgate for the next twenty years.

Entertainment Complex

Since iStar is planning to rebrand (an overused term in my opinion) their shopping center into the “Westgate Entertainment District” instead of something else, doesn’t that imply that the arena in the middle of the complex will be a featured amenity? With the competition in the valley for acts to fill venues, it’s unlikely that the arena could survive (and pay the bills for Glendale) without the Coyotes being the main tenant of the building.

There is a more complete economic analysis of the Coyotes and their “cost” to the City of Glendale here, “The Real Numbers“. Those numbers clearly, I believe, show that the Coyotes belong where they are and will be a viable asset to the fiscal health of Westgate and the City of Glendale for years to come. The calculations, in fact, are based on the “old” numbers (before the arena lease deal was reworked) and they still make sense. The changes negotiated to the benefit of the city only extend the benefit of the Coyotes to the city, making it a “no brainer” even given the current fiduciary challenges faced by Glendale.