When the Coyotes hosted a Tempe Wins campaign event at The Shop Beer Co. on Feb. 23, the crowd of about 75 people was sprinkled with skeptics. 

Once Coyotes president and CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez had completed a slideshow presentation on the arena and entertainment district proposal, he held a Q&A session. That’s when the misinformation began flying his way.

Why should the voters trust a team that was kicked out of Glendale for non-payment of bills and taxes?

The truth: They weren’t kicked out for non-payment of bills and taxes. Glendale wanted the Coyotes to stay, even after the well publicized failure to pay bills. They parted ways with the Coyotes because the franchise refused to sign a long-term agreement with the city to remain at then-Gila River Arena, as Glendale City manager Kevin Phelps told PHNX Sports in December.

“I made it abundantly clear that my hope would be that ASM and the Coyotes could reach agreement on a long-term lease (at Gila River Arena) of 15 to 20 years in length,” Phelps said. “However, I wanted [Chief of Staff for Hockey and Facility Operations] Pat [Murphy] to know in no uncertain terms that if a long-term agreement could not be reached, then the city would exercise its right under the current use agreement and not extend beyond June 30, 2022.”

Why should the city trust NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s promise of a 30-year non-relocation agreement with Tempe when the Coyotes broke a similar agreement with Glendale?

The truth: The Coyotes did not break such an agreement with Glendale. Two years after reaching a 15-year lease agreement with the Coyotes in 2013, the city ripped up the agreement citing never proven conflicts of interest in the original deal that five legal experts said were thin at best. After that, the city and team operated on a year-to-year basis.

What about the homeless?

The context of that question was never made clear, but it should be noted that the project proposal includes a $2 million contribution to the Tempe Coalition for Affordable Housing.

And then there was this deception by the opposition campaign, which Tempe council member Randy Keating noted on a recent PHNX Coyotes show.


Gutierrez has admitted that he has had to combat this level of misinformation at multiple gatherings. There is concern among city staff members and team supporters that the Coyotes have no one to blame but themselves for being in this position.

“I have talked to a couple other staff members and we’re all of the thought that they’re just kind of late to the game in putting out the information that they need to be putting out to counteract all the stuff that has been going around,” one Tempe official said. “The ‘no’ campaign has been out for a long time. That’s what seems to work here in Tempe really well. The sooner you get out and get the information out, the better. 

“Instead, what it seems like to me and other staff members in conversations I have had with them is that the Coyotes organization is playing defense. Nobody was countering what the “no” campaign was saying and trying to correct them on things that were not right. Now they have to play catch up. They’re behind, and that’s just not the position that I thought that they would be in. I thought that once a decision was made to send this to referendum, that they would come out immediately and start talking about their position, about the good things that this will bring to the community, and all the reasons why they should be here.”

Gutierrez said there was a method to the Coyotes’ plan.

“It was always a measured approach, knowing full well that historically, referendum elections are very backdated,” Gutierrez said. “This one is a special election; it’s mail-in only, and we knew we would have to have a significant amount of effort to register voters, and to actually get them to mail in their ballots. That is a heavy emphasis, not only to inform people, but to have them actually vote. Given that it’s a very hyperlocal election in Tempe only, we needed to ensure that the emphasis was to get out to vote.

“We feel that as people get informed, they become very supportive when they understand what the project is, when they understand what the deal is, when they understand who we really are. They become very supportive as they become informed. Now we have to focus on how do we get them to vote, as opposed to saying, ‘Hey, that sounds really good. Someone else is gonna take care of that and vote.’ For us, it was always a measured approach that we knew had to be sustained over months.”

At least one campaign analyst said that there is logic behind that approach.

“I think it’s a sensible strategy for them,” said Kathren Coleman, a political and communications consultant for two decades, who served as deputy recorder for communications under Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, and also worked for former Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano. “What they are looking at is an all-mail ballot election. Every voter who is eligible in Tempe is going to receive a ballot at their house. They are going to be able to fill it out and they are going to send it off potentially within 72 hours of them opening their ballot. In these cases, voters don’t generally pay attention until right before that ballot is in their hand.

“What it sounds like the organization is trying to do is trying to strike while the iron is hot and not give ground to the “no” campaign. Were they to start communicating in December with voters, then voters would have four months to mill over this idea and there would also be four months for the “no” campaign to come in and respond to everything that the “yes” campaign is doing. What it sounds like the organization is doing, and smartly in some respects, is they are going to wait and they are going to flood the voters with “yes” campaign information around the time that they get their ballot so that there is just a cacophony of sound and information about voting yes on these propositions that will create a period of time where the “no” campaign can’t squeeze in there and dilute the message, but also that it is so strong and powerful that there is no doubt in the voters minds that they would obviously want to vote yes.”

In recent weeks, the “yes” campaign has become much more visible in signage on Tempe streets, in media appearances, in direct-mail efforts and in door-to-door efforts.

Tempe realtor Nick Bastian, the campaign chairman for Tempe Wins, highlighted a litany of events and efforts that the campaign has planned. Those include:

Wednesday: Door-to-door canvassing
Friday: Tempe Food Truck Fridays canvassing
Friday: Mirabella Community presentation
Saturday: Door-to-door canvassing
Sunday: Second Sundays on Mill Ave. canvassing
Monday: LD 12 Democrats
March 15: Door-to-door canvassing
March 16: Coyotes game tabling: Union night
March 16: Hayden Ferry HOA Community meeting
March 18: Door-to-door canvassing
March 19: Community info meeting (private home)
March 21: Door-to-door canvassing
March 23: Door-to-door canvassing
March 25: Little League opening day canvassing
March 25: Tempe Car Show tabling
March 26: Private sports night house party
March 28: Door-to-door canvassing
March 30: Door-to-door canvassing
March 31: Tempe Festival For the Arts tabling
April 1: Tempe Festival For the Arts tabling
April 2: Tempe Festival for the Arts tabling

“We are going door to door, we’re doing direct mail, we’re doing coffee meetings or meetings in homes; it’s more of a grassroots campaign,” Bastian said. “We’re doing billboards and all these sorts of big-campaign things. We’re not just picking one or two areas. It’s going to be spread out over any kind of messaging that you can imagine, but we know that these kinds of votes are won in people’s living rooms.

“We’re going to make sure that every single voter in Tempe is aware of the facts of this campaign. In my opinion, any reasonable person who looks at the facts of this project is going to be a yes vote.”

Tempe voters will decide the fate of the proposed arena and entertainment district by mail-in ballot. Ballots will go out to voters a month before the voting deadline, with the final day for voting set for May 16.

For the measure to pass, the Coyotes need a majority vote on each of propositions 301, 302 and 303. For more information on the proposal, visit: https://www.tempe.gov/government/economic-development/priest-rio-salado-rfp


Top photo/artist rendering of the Tempe Entertainment District courtesy of Arizona Coyotes

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