While the Phoenix Coyotes did not qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, the 2013-14 season was not a total loss.
New ownership came in and, for the fist time in four years, there was stability to a franchise known for its uncertainty and doubt.
From the business side, progress was noted, and while previous economic conditions were perilous at best, the future remains hopeful.
That’s the assessment of Anthony LeBlanc, the Coyotes’ man in charge of crunching numbers and increasing revenue. Though his official title is President and CEO, LeBlanc enjoys mingling with fans and projects a vibrant and animated personality.
After all, LeBlanc, along with George Gosbee, just spent $170 million last August to take the Phoenix franchise off the hands of the NHL, which owned the team for the previous four years. With a constant uncertainty and nasty rumors, players, coaches and staff operated under a cloud of darkness and gloom for nearly the past half-decade.
Now, IceArizona, propelled by Gosbee, LeBlanc and their partners, has a handle on this venture and LeBlanc, for one, remains wholly optimistic about the future.
While the Coyotes dropped off the playoff radar screen, LeBlanc, and those in command of the operation, felt that ugly, lingering and common feeling.
“We share in the fan's frustration,” he said. “We were really excited how the season started. The start was fantastic and making the playoffs was a certainty.”
Then the wheels came off on the ice, but LeBlanc remained encouraged. In a fierce determination to make hockey work in the desert, he began to employ some of the marketing and sales tools which dominated in his business life with such companies as Corel Corporation, Giga Information Group and Research in Motion (now BlackBerry) between 2000 and 2008.
LeBlanc commenced his quest of the Coyotes in 2008 when he became a founding member of Ice Edge Holdings and later teamed up with Gosbee in 2013 in an effort to buy the Coyotes from the NHL.
Now on firm economic ground, LeBlanc has the task of increasing revenue and having loyal fans and the greater community make substantial visits to home games.
For the 2013-14 hockey season, the Coyotes averaged around 14,000 per game in the 17,125-seat Jobing.com Arena. Going forward, LeBlanc set the goal for next season at an average of 15,000 per game.
In the season just concluded, the Coyotes sold out seven dates. For the final game on April 13, when the team was eliminated from playoff contention, they drew 15,146 for a game against Dallas.
“We did have a record number of season ticket holders this past season, and we expect that number to rise,” LeBlanc said. “You know what was the most encouraging? Fans came up and thanked me and George for making hockey work in the desert. The fans know we’re back for the long term and ready to be part of the franchise going forward.”
One of the key components of economic survival is the ability to gain sponsorship. In its operation of the Coyotes, the NHL couldn’t care less about marketing the team or trying to get fans in the stands. Now, LeBlanc says the goal is to increase revenues through partnerships.
“Corporate sponsorships are very important to us,” he said. “Now, we get the sense businesses want to play and be part of our future.”
If LeBlanc and his partners are dealing with critical economic issues, there will be a subtle but significant change for next season.
The team name will change from Phoenix Coyotes to Arizona Coyotes, but LeBlanc said, from a marketing standpoint, there will be little difference.
“There will be a minor addition to the patches players wear on the uniform, but nothing else,” he said. “We’ll still have the coyote's face as our core logo, and the colors (Sedona red and sandstone) will not change.”
The name alteration will take place at the start of the 2014-15 season, and LeBlanc then also offered the standard support for his staff.
“While we're taking over the business side, we rely on (general manager Don) Maloney and (head coach Dave) Tippett on the ice,” he said. “Whatever they need to win, we’ll support them. Both have proven to be winners in the past, and we’re grateful to have them on board.”
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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