Itinerant Fan

Gila River Arena

Only a handful of markets around the U.S. have the distinction of being home to teams in all four major professional sports leagues. Phoenix is one of those markets, which means that Phoenix is home to an NHL team.

Now, you can question the viability of hockey in Arizona all you want (many have), speculate on how long the Coyotes will remain in Arizona given their unstable financial situation (many have) and dump on the Coyotes’ relative lack of success on the ice over the years (many have), but the fact of the matter is that there’s NHL hockey in Arizona and, ergo, Arizona is a great destination to have on your list if you’re planning a hockey-related road trip.

Clearly, many fans do love coming to Arizona to see hockey, judging by the many opposition jerseys visible in the stands almost regardless of who the Coyotes are playing. That part of it is a shame, but the Coyotes do have a loyal fan base, and they have a pretty nice arena in which to watch their team play.

Gila River Arena, as it’s known now (switched over from the clumsier Jobing.com Arena a few years back), is situated in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale and in the middle of a vibrant area that includes the Cardinals’ State Farm Stadium. And the folks there do go to great lengths to make all hockey fans feel welcome, whether you’re rooting for the Coyotes or not.

For more on visiting the Phoenix area, check out our Phoenix city guide.

  •   The Approach

    Glendale isn’t close to downtown Phoenix, which is one of the drawbacks of the facility. But in the ever-burgeoning Valley of the Sun, there’s more and more to do in more and more far-flung places that are worth driving to, so in the grand scheme of things it’s not THAT far away.

    Generally, from downtown you’re looking at a 15-20 minute drive without traffic, and tack on 5-10 minutes if you’re coming straight from Sky Harbor Airport, on the east side of downtown. The route is simple enough — take Interstate 10 west to Loop 101 north, and proceed about 6-7 miles to either Bethany Home Road, on the arena’s south side, or Glendale Avenue, to the north.

    Once you’re there, you’ve reached the sprawling Westgate Entertainment District and a rather interesting parking situation. There are plenty of signs directing you to “Coyotes Parking” and signs telling you what to do if you’ve got a color-coded permit (which, if you’re a visitor, you probably don’t). But unlike most places where you expect to eventually reach a parking attendant taking money, this never happens here. You’re directed to a common lot that other Westgate patrons use, and you park. Yes, for free.

    I don’t know for sure, but I have to think this is a serious hindrance to the Coyotes’ financial situation. What sports franchise doesn’t reap a significant amount of revenue from game parking fees? But how can they charge, when there are other folks coming to the complex who aren’t going to the game and just want to get ice cream or whatever — you don’t want to discourage them from coming on game nights. And even though there are paid lots close to the arena, the smart fans will just park a little farther away for free and walk. It really is a conundrum, one I’m not sure has a good solution.

    If you just hate driving and parking, public transportation isn’t really an option unless you like doing a lot of transferring. Phoenix’s Valley Metro Rail doesn’t come close to Glendale, and from the westernmost stop you’ll have to ride the bus up to Westgate. It’s doable but not very practical. If your main reason for visiting Phoenix is to see hockey and you don’t have a car at your disposal, consider staying at one of the many hotels nearby to Westgate, including a Renaissance right next door to the arena, and just taking a cab back and forth from the airport.

  •   The Build-Up

    The Westgate Entertainment District has an impressive number of restaurants and bars, including a few literally next to the arena’s main gate. It also has some retail (including a large sports souvenir shop), a big movie theater, a giant fountain/park area (especially popular with the kids) and townhomes. Go a little farther out, and you’ll find even more restaurants, shops and hotels.

    So you really could spend all day at the complex waiting for your game to start and hanging out after it, and if you’re doing that you’re likely spending more than enough money to justify getting that free parking space. (Wonder if the Coyotes get a cut of some of that money? Probably not.)

    If you are walking through the main entertainment complex on your way to the game, it is pretty cool to see fans spilling out of the nearby restaurants, hanging out next to the fountains and engaging in other general merriment before going on. It makes for a nice atmosphere, and the Coyotes do their part by putting up giant inflatable Coyote players, staging youth street hockey games, etc.

  •   The Ambiance

    Once you step inside (and happily out of the heat, depending on the time of year you’re visiting), Gila River Arena offers everything you’d expect in a modern arena. It’s big but not huge, and with a fair amount of concessions choices but not overwhelmingly so. 

    One distinct design feature of the arena: The upper concourse is above the upper seating level, so fans in that level can walk down to their seats — and it also creates standing-room viewing points as well as opportunities for fans going to the bathroom or getting food to still keep an eye on the action.

    The food options you have range from the typical hot dogs, chicken tenders and the like to Mexican food, deli sandwiches and sausages. Perhaps in an effort to appease the Canadian snowbirds that undoubtedly drop in on games, poutine can also be found. Sadly, another Canadian export, Tim Hortons, no longer has a presence after being available for several years.

    While the Coyotes work to improve their product on the ice, they already do a terrific job with game presentation — something that was enhanced for the 2018-19 season with the addition of a new HD videoboard at center ice. During the game, expect to hear a lot of Coyote howls — such as when the home team scores, of course (along with the team’s very appropriate choice of goal song, “Howlin’ For You” by the Black Keys), and when it goes on a power play.

The Particulars

Home Teams
Arizona Coyotes

Address
9400 W. Maryland Ave.
Glendale, AZ 85305

Year Opened
2003

Capacity
17,125

Upcoming Events
All times local
Elton John
Saturday, January 26, 2019
8:00 pm
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Kelly Clarkson
Friday, February 1, 2019
7:00 pm
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Columbus Blue Jackets at Arizona Coyotes
Thursday, February 7, 2019
7:00 pm
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Dallas Stars at Arizona Coyotes
Saturday, February 9, 2019
2:00 pm
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KISS
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
7:30 pm
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