North America’s elite National Hockey League (NHL) has announced that the ownership rights to its Arizona Coyotes franchise have been sold, with a new team in its place set to be established in Utah.

Smith Entertainment Group (SEG), the owner of the National Basketball League’s Utah Jazz and Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake, will serve as the owners and controllers of the new Utah franchise, which will enter the NHL in the 2024-25 season after completing the purchase from sole Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo.

The Coyotes had been located in Arizona since 1996 when the franchise was relocated there from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where it had been the original incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets. 

Upon its entry to the league, the new Utah franchise will play at the Jazz’s existing Delta Center home, with an existing facility in place and plans in the works to expand the arena to 17,000 helping to ensure that the franchise will be ready for a league entry later in 2024.

Between 2022 and 2024 the Coyotes played at the 5,000-capacity Mullett Arena in Tempe, Arizona, by far the smallest arena in the league, and less than a third of the size of the 15,321-capacity Canada Life Centre in Winnipeg, home of the current Winnipeg Jets, formerly the Atlanta Thrashers.

The Coyotes moved to the Mullett Arena after the expiration of its lease at the 19,000-capacity Gila River Arena, with the move intended as an interim solution while the Coyotes construct a new, privately funded, arena that still has yet to materialize.

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Given the minuscule capacity of the Mullett Arena, it is likely that the NHL has intervened to transfer Coyotes ownership to a new state where a more NHL-ready set of facilities is housed.

The purchase of the team brings to an end Merualo’s turbulent term as an NHL owner, marred by these promises of a new arena for the Coyotes franchise, any definitive land purchases for which were never made, as well as the expulsion of former co-owner Andrew Barroway from the NHL over allegations of domestic violence and assault.

In recent weeks, it was reported that a bid was being put together for a land package for a potential new arena site in Phoenix, Arizona, at a June 2024 land auction and that the Coyotes were as such committed to remaining in the state.

The NHL stated that while the Arizona Coyotes franchise has been rendered “inactive”, Meruelo will hold the right to reactive the franchise over the next five years if he is able to fully construct a new “state-of-the-art” NHL facility in that time.

The Coyotes even released prospective renders of a new, privately funded, arena on its social media channels alongside an announcement confirming its plans to build the arena on the site it seeks to claim at auction, indicating that it is likely that the franchise will return to the NHL within the five-year term of the deal.

Following the sale of the franchise, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stated: “We fully support [Meruelo’s] ongoing efforts to secure a new home in the desert for the Coyotes.”

Meruelo added of the future of the Coyotes franchise: “It is simply unfair to continue to have our players, coaches, hockey front office, and the NHL teams they compete against, spend several more years playing in an arena that is not suited for NHL hockey.

He added: “But this is not the end for NHL hockey in Arizona. I have negotiated the right to reactivate the team within the next five years, and have retained ownership of the beloved Coyotes name, brand, and logo. I remain committed to this community and to building a first-class sports arena and entertainment district without seeking financial support from the public.”