/ Modified may 29, 2024 4:51 p.m.

Rio Nuevo District offers incentives to keep hockey in Tucson

The Roadrunners will play most of their home games in the Old Pueblo next season.

roadrunners steenbergen Tucson Roadrunners player Tyler Steenbergen says its great to have fans back in the stadium after almost a year.
Tucson Roadrunners

Correction: This story was updated to reflect that the American Hockey League Board of Governors will no longer decide if the Roadrunners can split its play time between Tucson and Tempe after the team announced they will play 30 games in Tucson and six in Tempe.

The Tucson Roadrunners will play a minimum of 30 games in the Tucson Arena for the upcoming 2024-2025 season. The team will also “remain in Tucson as the home market for the American Hockey League club for the foreseeable future.”

The decision comes after Rio Nuevo District’s Board of Directors unanimously approved a hefty incentive package to keep minor-league hockey in Tucson.

“The Roadrunners staying here is a win for the region and great news for Arizona hockey,” Fletcher McCusker, Chairman of Rio Nuevo District said. “Tucson is to Phoenix as Austin is to Dallas, a professional sports super region. We want Tucson to be the AHL piece of that kind of partnership.”

The board agreed to pay half the Tucson Roadrunner’s rent of the Tucson Arena, which they own, as well as half of the team’s office rent. The incentive package would cost the board around $240,000. The board would pay $180,000 toward the Roadrunner’s arena rent and $60,000 for office rent.

Rio Nuevo also said it will drop its $2 fee on tickets.

“We would like to thank the Rio Nuevo District Board of Directors for their tremendous support that enables the Roadrunners to maintain a strong presence in Tucson and throughout Arizona,” Alex Meruelo Jr., owner of the team said. “This is an important step in our continued commitment to a bright future of hockey in Arizona.”

McCusker says the quarter of a million dollar investment would mean a large return on investment. He estimates that if about 5,000 fans attend each game, then the city could benefit by millions of dollars.

“It's a huge (return on investment),” McCusker said. “I think it's great community relations. I think it's great for our region. I think it's great for the AHL. But the economic loss, had they moved to us would have been in the tens of millions of dollars. We save that by having them stay here.”

Bob Hoffman, the Roadrunner’s President, said the offer is “certainly more than generous, and it does put (the franchise) in a financially more competitive position.” However, while Tucson ticket prices are more affordable for fans, Hoffman said that corporate partnerships in Tempe are higher.

“With the coyotes gone, what a lot of people may not realize, is some of those costs that might have been absorbed by the NHL level, they're actually now going to be absorbed by me,” Hoffman said. “Our costs are only going to go up due to that sale and transfer.”

Hoffman said if more fans attend games and if there are more corporate partners, then it would help with absorbing the increased costs due to the Coyotes leaving.

“This is an AHL market,” Hoffman said. “We believe we've built that; we believe that it is, and we want to keep AHL hockey here for the foreseeable future.”

Earlier this year, Arizona’s one NHL team ended its 28-year run after Utah Jazz owners Ryan and Ashley Smith paid $1.2 billion to move the team up north to Salt Lake City. The agreement contains a clause permitting Arizona to obtain an expansion team, provided a new arena is constructed within the next five years.

Meruelo has floated the idea of splitting the team’s play time between Tucson and Tempe since the Coyotes sale. But that has not been decided yet.

“We have different ideas and different plans,” Meruelo said in April. “We haven’t yet come to a conclusion. So far we’re very happy in Tucson.”

Chair of the Rio Nuevo Board Fletcher McCosky said he did not like the idea of moving the team, which pushed for the board to make such a proposal.

“We really think Tucson’s an American Hockey League town, and we began to express our interest in keeping the team here, putting our money where our mouth is to provide some incentives for the team to do that.”

Board Vice Chairman Edmund Marquez says the Roadrunners have a passionate fan base in this city and they want to see the team stay.

“This is Tucson planting our flag and also saying this is our team,” Marquez said. “This is the Tucson Roadrunners–not the Tempe Road Runners… we want to continue to be competitive as a city.”

As it stands, the Roadrunners still have a two-year lease at the Tucson Arena. Hoffman said the franchise would like to extend it to three years.

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