STADIUM DUDE’S NHL ARENA RANK: #32
- Location: Tempe, Arizona
- Opened: 2022
- Capacity: 5,000
- Games attended: 1
- Last visited: 2022
I like visiting the Valley of the Sun in fall, winter and spring. While the area sprawls, I find it relatively safe, accessible, and fun. There’s stuff to do whether you’re into outdoor pursuits, fine dining, culture, entertainment, or just cutting loose on the town. It’s almost always sunny, the people seem friendly and chill, and I feel welcome here.
But why Phoenix and area still have an NHL team is beyond me.
The team had nice digs out in Glendale with the Gila River Arena. Problem was, Glendale is far from the more affluent suburbs of Phoenix, and few made the drive west. As such, there were always thousands of empty seats. And the Coyotes, allegedly, weren’t the best tenants, at one time even missing a rent payment. The city of Glendale figured it would be more profitable if the team WASN’T there, and kicked them out!
So where does a hockey team in the desert go when they get evicted? The Coyotes have been flirting with a Tempe arena for nearly a decade. Having a 16,000-seat state-of-the-art arena near its fan base should allow the team to finally turn a profit. But arenas often require public money, which leads to city council delays. Plus they take time to build. So the team struck a deal to play in the Sun Devils’ brand new college arena for what could be as many as FOUR seasons as they try to get their house in order.
Now if the team struggled to make a profit drawing 14,000+ fans a game in Glendale, how are they going to be OK in a 5,000-seat arena? With Kansas City and Quebec City having NHL-ready rinks available, and the nation’s 4th-largest market, Houston, bereft of a hockey team, I have no clue how Phoenix keeps its team. But the NHL bends over backwards to keep this market alive because, I assume, there are embarrassing pictures somewhere of Gary Bettman fondling a roadrunner or defiling a cactus.
Look: as a hockey fan, I’m glad the Yotes are still here. I’d much rather make a winter road trip to the Valley than to other potential cities. So I hope this all works out for them. But it just doesn’t make sense.
A Nice (Minor League) Venue.
Mullett Arena may be the most perfectly named hockey facility. Alas, it’s named for the benefactors who helped Arizona State fund it, not the hockey-est of hair cuts.
It’s a lot easier to get to than the old one, especially if you’re staying in the East Valley. Parking is $30 right across the street in the official garages, or less if you wander a little further closer to downtown Tempe.
Of course, given its tiny capacity, sight lines are great. Every seat is close to the action and allows you to appreciate the speed of the game. Even the Standing Room areas are closer to the ice than most lower bowl seats in every other NHL venue.
Surprisingly, despite the paucity of supply, tickets aren’t that hard to get. At the game I went, dozens of seats were available to walk-up crowds, and secondary pricing was not predatory in the least. (Again, this would scare me about the long-term viability of this sport in this market, but it’s not my money to lose!)
Seats are comfy and standard width. Four sections behind the north goal, a.k.a “The Den”, are bench seating and serves as the “student section” with ASU college kids offered discounted tickets. You may be enticed by the affordable price, but if you want a seat back, avoid sections 114-117.
Staff were friendly and helpful. The center ice scoreboard is impressive for a college arena, but underwhelming for a pro rink. The pre-game hype show was decidedly meh.
You Can Get Your Drink On If That’s Your Bag
Concession lines and washroom lines move fairly quickly given the low capacity. So a cold beer is never far, though selection is pretty standard.
Cold Beer and Cheeseburgers has a stand, as does New York style pizzeria Venezia’s, and Shaq’s Big Chicken. The Club Section, Sections 120, 101 and 102, offer cushioned seats and a nice buffet and unlimited refreshments (including domestic beer) with your ticket; if you’re a drinker, this could be worthwhile if you can score some discounted seats on the secondary market.
Unlike their old home in Glendale which featured several bars and eateries, there are fewer options in the immediate vicinity. If you’re willing to walk 10-20 minutes you have more options including several choices in downtown Tempe. Plus being on the East Side, your Uber ride home is probably much shorter, so if you want to make it a party, go for it.
Good Fans, But There Are Only 5,000 People There
As a transplant town, there will always be a sizable contingent from the visiting fans. Coyote fans are pretty loud, but even so, you’ll often get a “neutral site” vibe.
That said, part of the excitement of live sport is the spine-tingling roar of the crowd and the energy of being with throngs of like-minded idiots. The rink is only 15 rows high. You just don’t get the same buzz and energy that you would at an arena with a proper upper deck no matter how good the fans.
And therein lies the rub and why Mullett Arena is rated the 32nd best arena (I don’t want to say “the worst”, though technically true, simply because it is a good little building). It’s just WAAAY too small for a Big League event. When I saw the Chargers play a game at a 30,000-seat soccer venue, I thought that was charming. Mullett Arena just lacks that “Big League” thrill. It feels like you’re at a college arena. Because you are. Hell, even center ice has a Sun Devils logo.
While there’s a cool novelty in seeing the world’s best players playing in a building smaller than most Canadian Junior Teams’ rinks, it just felt more like a pre-season game being played in a satellite market. The team may market it as “cozy” or “intimate”. I just found it rinky-dink.