Winning team the answer to Coyotes’ woes

 

Gary Bettman should hire Heather Schroeder to work in the National Hockey League’s public relations department. Because if there’s anyone who might be able to sell hockey in Arizona, it’s the president of the Phoenix Coyotes Booster Club.

 
 
 
 
 

MONTREAL - Gary Bettman should hire Heather Schroeder to work in the National Hockey League’s public relations department. Because if there’s anyone who might be able to sell hockey in Arizona, it’s the president of the Phoenix Coyotes Booster Club.

Schroeder, who was born in Chicago but grew up in Tucson, Ariz., attended her first hockey game in 1997 after a friend won tickets to a Coyotes pre- season game.

She was hooked immediately.

“I was like holy cow!” Schroeder recalled when she was reached by phone Thursday. “It was just the whole thing . . . the whole game. The speed, the agility . . . the fighting, of course, is fabulous. Just the whole game is so exciting. I don’t think anything compares with hockey. In football there’s so much dead time . . . baseball, sorry for baseball fans, but to me it’s a nap . . . it’s so boring.”

Schroeder hasn’t missed a Coyotes home game since the end of the NHL lockout in 2005. She has Coyotes jewellery, a Coyotes watch and a Coyotes licence plate on her truck. “I’m never without a Coyotes logo, ever,” she said proudly.

And she insists there are a lot of hockey fans in Phoenix.

“It’s really unfortunate, because we do have far more hockey fans down here than people give us credit for,” she said. “We’re a city of just over four million people, a lot of whom have come from other places. So we have a lot of Blackhawks fans and Red Wings fans and Boston fans who have relocated here to Phoenix. We have a lot of people who were hockey fans before they moved to Phoenix. Then you have the homegrown fans like me who didn’t know anything about hockey until they saw the Coyotes.

“People think there are fewer of us than there are,” she added. “Part of the reason for that is because the (local) media doesn’t cover anything related to hockey unless it’s bad news. They cover (Sean) Avery, they cover (Richard) Zednik and his neck getting slashed (by a skate) . . . they cover all that kind of stuff. But they’re hesitant, it seems, to cover the team on a regular basis. And if they did that, we’d have more people who would be interested.”

It would also help if the Coyotes won more often. They missed the playoffs for the sixth straight season before filing for bankruptcy this month.

Bettman, the NHL’s commissioner, has insisted the Coyotes situation is “fixable” while defending the league’s fight to keep the team in Phoenix and out of the hands of BlackBerry billionaire Jim Balsillie, who has made a $212.5- million U.S. offer to buy the team and move it to Hamilton.

And Bettman could have been talking about Schroeder when he said: “When you have fans invest in a franchise emotionally and financially, you just don’t give up on them when times get tough. If the standard was, `When times get tough,’ we would have been out of Chicago, for Pete’s sakes. We would have been out of Ottawa, Buffalo and Pittsburgh, and they were all situations that were fixable.”

Those situations were fixed when the teams started winning. And Schroeder is convinced the same thing can happen in Phoenix.

“People here only support winners,” Schroeder said. “When the D-Backs won the World Series (in 2001), the next season that stadium was full. But as soon as they started to struggle, attendance dropped off. The (NBA) Suns were doing fabulously and they were sold out years in advance . . . now they’re having a hard time selling tickets because they’re not doing well. The (NFL) Cardinals, the only reason they were selling out University of Phoenix Stadium when they first moved in there is because they had the Super Bowl (in 2008) and you had to have season tickets in order to get Super Bowl tickets. This is an area of fair-weather fans. They only go when a team is winning.”

And Schroeder believes the Coyotes are on the verge of becoming winners, giving credit to general manager Don Maloney and “his plan of developing youth and sticking to that plan.”

“We’ve seen an improvement on the ice and people are coming to the games because they’re excited about seeing the Kyle Turrises (age 19) and the Peter Muellers (21) and the Viktor Tikhonovs (21) and the Mikkel Boedkers (19) . . . they’re excited to see these kids because they are so good. We have a really good young team and it is really exciting. If we were winning we would see the attendance numbers going up.”

So, what would Schroeder, who has worked in employee communications but is currently unemployed, do if Bettman called with a job offer?

“Everybody keeps telling me (I should work for the NHL),” she said with a laugh. “But you know what, I’d have to give up my Coyotes season tickets and my booster club in order to work for them. So I’d rather just stay where I am.”

 
 
 
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