(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)
After just one season, Arizona State’s newborn men’s hockey program has seemingly outgrown long-time home Oceanside Ice Arena.
This season, the team played just five official NCAA games in the venue, and in those five games, the team averaged an attendance of 681.
That number was way down from the 5,074 the team averaged in three games at Gila River Arena in Glendale.
Arizona State University and the Arizona Coyotes formed a partnership in the offseason that would allow the Devils to play four games at Gila River Arena in their inaugural season, with the expectation that the partnership would continue to grow.
“We’ve found that there is a great appetite for college hockey in the valley,” Arizona State Senior Associate Athletics Director David Cohen said. “I think there was some research that was done to show that the average of 5,000 would put us in the top 15 to 20 percent of all college hockey attendance for this past year.”
Given those numbers, the demand for college hockey as become too vast for the ever-charming Oceanside Ice Arena to continue to host the young program.
While the sample size is small, the team’s officials believe that it isn’t farfetched to assume that the attendance numbers would remain consistent over the course of an entire season, rather than just four games.
“I don’t see why not,” head coach Greg Powers said. “The Coyotes have marketed everything very well, they’ve been a great partner and with them kind of jointly marketing our games and the joint effort with the athletic department there is no reason why we can’t.”
The Sun Devils will be playing most of their games at Gila River Arena next season– while still playing a small percentage of their games at Oceanside.
However, mum remains the word in terms of what the administration’s long term plans are for the home of the team.
“All I can say with that is that our administration is thrilled with a lot of the options that we have on the table,” Powers said. “They’re working hard at it every day.”
The presence of a student section and a general rise in attendance has played a role in keeping the moral of the team up throughout the year. This is the case more so for the ACHA returners, who know what it was like when 200 people at a game was an oddity.
“I think it was awesome,” junior captain Drew Newmeyer said. “Obviously being our first year in the NCAA being able to attract a big crowd like that every weekend is big for us.”
Glendale is 26.8 miles away from ASU’s Tempe campus, which would present a challenge for students to get to and from any games hosted at Gila River Arena.
The administration, though, has a plan to make the games more accessible.
“We would definitely want to engage ASU West in a major way,” Powers said. “Then figure out a way to arrange a few busses for the Tempe students to go out. That’s definitely something we will look into.”
For the Arizona Coyotes, the prospects of joining forces with the Arizona State University administration presents an opportunity to produce even more revenue than they have in the past.
Given their cloudy future and well-known leasing dispute with the City of Glendale, they just might need the extra profit.
“We believe that hockey is a revenue sport,” Cohen said. “There is a lot of opportunity and I think attendance is the first piece. Then depending on where you play and the cut too that you get from concessions, parking and the lease that you sign will determine a lot of what that revenue is.”
While Gila River Arena seems to be the obvious plan of attack for Arizona State hockey next season and possibly the year after that, there has also been some buzz surrounding the idea of building a new stadium altogether.
“We’re looking at our options right now,” Cohen said. “There are a couple different partnerships and we’re working with the master planner that we just hired to evaluate the different options we do have.”
For the immediate future, though, it looks like the band playing the fight song in Gila River Arena as the Devils skate onto the ice will become a common occurrence.
Whether a long term lease at the arena comes to fruition, though, has yet to be seen.
For now, the players aren’t complaining about the larger venue.
“It would be a change but it wouldn’t be difficult,” Newmeyer said. “Obviously what they’ve got over there [Gila River Arena] is bar-none.”