The Arizona Coyotes have signed an agreement to purchase the American Hockey League’s Springfield Falcons, with the intention of moving them to Tucson for next season, the franchise announced Tuesday.
The agreement is pending approval from the AHL Board of Governors, but the hope is for the team to play at the Tucson Convention Center beginning with the 2016-2017 season, according to the release.
The move would give Tucson its second professional franchise, joining FC Tucson, a semi-professional soccer team in the Premier Development League. The Tucson Padres, the Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres, left for El Paso, Texas, in 2014.
Tuesday’s announcement comes one week after ArizonaSports.com reported that the Coyotes were in discussions to move their AHL team to the Old Pueblo. The report acknowledged that the last-remaining hurdle for the move was the purchase of an existing AHL franchise.
Craig Morgan, of ArizonaSports.com, wrote that the goal for the move is to expand the Coyotes’ reach state-wide:
“(Coyotes President and CEO Anthony) LeBlanc has long coveted Tucson as the site of the team’s AHL franchise because it is the second-largest market in Arizona. The proximity of Tucson would make it far easier to call up players in the event of injuries. The team also hopes to expand hockey’s footprint across the state and this move is seen as a step in that direction.”
Fletcher McCusker, board chairman of Rio Nuevo, a Tax Incremental Financing entity that oversees the operation of the Tucson Convention Center, declined to comment on the recent developments. However, he did acknowledge that the Tucson Convention Center would need more facility updates before it can house an AHL team.
The Tucson Convention Center, which opened in 1971 and holds roughly 6,700 fans, recently underwent more than $10 million in renovations to improve game-day amenities, including video boards, seating, concession areas and bathrooms. It’s only current tenant is the University of Arizona’s club hockey team, which plays from September to March.
“We would not meet current league requirements for the back office areas including the locker room, training rooms, weight rooms and medical areas so that would be part of any conversation,” McCusker said. “We’ve always been interested in finding a pro team but we really don’t know the status of what the Coyotes want to do.”
The Coyotes acknowledged in Tuesday’s announcement that they are currently working with the City of Tucson and Rio Nuevo to finalize a deal.
If the two sides can reach an agreement, it’s expected that the Coyotes’ affiliate would play in the AHL’s Pacific Division, which was created last season after the NHL’s Pacific Division agreed to move their minor league teams closer to the West Coast.
The Los Angeles Kings’ affiliate plays in Ontario, California; the Anaheim Ducks’ affiliate in San Diego; the Calgary Flames’ affiliate in Stockton, California; the Edmonton Oilers’ affiliate in Bakersfield, California; and the San Jose Sharks’ affiliate plays in San Jose, California, in the same arena as their parent club.
The AHL, founded in 1936, serves as the top development league for all 30 NHL teams with close to 90 percent of today’s NHL players being American Hockey League graduates.