Challenges remain in bringing pro hockey to Tucson

Published: Apr. 19, 2016 at 7:34 PM MST|Updated: Apr. 19, 2016 at 8:06 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The first hurdle to bringing professional hockey to Tucson and the Tucson Convention Center has apparently been overcome.

The Arizona Coyotes of the National Hockey League have announced they will purchase a minor-league franchise in Springfield, MA with the goal of moving it to Tucson.

The next move comes from the NHL, which will need to approve the sale.

If that's done as expected, the wheels will be in motion to make the TCC ready for the American Hockey League franchise.

The team will need amenities that the TCC doesn't have now, like a training room, medicine room, weight room, hydrotherapy room and visitors locker rooms.

NHL representatives are expected to be in Tucson in the next few weeks for tour.

Rio Nuevo has already invested $8 million in upgrades to the seating, concessions, sound system and scoreboard.

Without those improvements, it's not likely the Coyotes would be interested.

When the NHL submits its needs list, it will be up to the Rio Nuevo Board to determine if it will foot the bill.

"If that's $20 million, that's unworkable," says Fletcher McCusker, the chair of the Rio Nuevo Board. "If it's two, three, or five, Rio Nuevo could do that."

Once that decision is made, then it would be up to the city of Tucson to work out a lease deal with the team.

Rio Nuevo owns the TCC, but the city of Tucson manages it.

But the payoff could be large if a deal is worked out.

Minor-league hockey franchises throughout the west draw up to 9,000 fans per game, in large part because of the financial and marketing support from the parent team.

According to McCusker, the numbers for Tucson are impressive.

There would be 34 home games in a season which runs from October to April.

If the games drew 6,000 fans, that would be nearly 200,000 fans visiting downtown.

"We know from our studies, when you're down here, you spend about $30 bucks above and beyond the ticket price," he said.

But there would also be scheduling problems.

The Coyotes farm team would need the ice for nearly six months for practices and other scrimmages.

That could be an issue.

Some events at the TCC, like monster-truck shows, motocross racing and other events need dirt.

Those events, along with the circus, would likely have to be rescheduled.

The TCC commission has already said it could clear the 34 dates it needs for games.

Some events, such as concerts, could be held if the ice is covered.

But the granddaddy of them all, the Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase, would likely need special dispensation.

"The season is right in the middle of the gem show and we're not going to disrupt the gem show," McCusker said. "So we need to find a way to skate around that and the ice probably has to come up for that."

But he added, "Its workable, we can work it out."

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