Bloomberg — Former private equity investor Xavier Gutiérrez sees a compelling business case for hockey in the desert.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Arizona Coyotes is the first Latino to lead a National Hockey League team and is pushing ice hockey to a fast-growing, young population in Phoenix and its surrounding cities.
“It starts by being intentional about welcoming ‘fans in waiting,’” Gutiérrez said in an interview in Tempe, Arizona for Bloomberg TV’s “Power Players” series. “This isn’t something that’s ancillary to the business plan. It’s core to the business plan.”
Gutiérrez, previously a private equity investor at Clearlake Capital in Southern California, was named as CEO of the Coyotes in 2020, a year after real estate and casino magnate Alex Meruelo became the majority owner.
A former investment officer for Meruelo’s family office, Gutiérrez is in a familiar company as the sports world is increasingly run by institutional investors who are focused on how to grow franchise value.
“You always had high net worth individuals who owned teams, but now you’re really seeing the investment in the actual clubs, in the enterprises, in the sports ecosystems,” Gutiérrez said. “It is institutional, it’s global. It is a tech business, it’s a media business. It’s a real assets and real estate business. And the new players that are coming into it is certainly going to continue.”
Founders and executives from firms such as Apollo Global Management, Blackstone Group and Bain Capital own controlling stakes in teams across all the major North American sports, including the NBA’s Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.
Funds themselves are taking stakes in teams. Clearlake Capital is a co-owner of the English Premier League’s Chelsea Football Club and Sixth Street Partners earlier this month said it would be the majority owner of a new National Women’s Soccer League team in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Those new owners see the upside in recruiting new fans to the arenas, watching the games on television and via streaming platforms and buying team merchandise. For the Coyotes, growing its business means serving the local market, Gutiérrez said, noting that Latinos comprise 43% of the population of Maricopa County, where three out of every five children between the age of 8 and 13 is Latino or another ethnic minority.
“That is where we’re headed,” he said. “That is who we’re trying to embrace.”
That mission derives directly from Meruelo, himself the first Latino owner of an NHL franchise, and his children, who are actively involved in running the team. Sports teams and athletes have an outsized voice and influence in their communities, Gutiérrez said, which gives teams like the Coyotes leverage to shape the broader conversation.
“Inclusion is bringing diverse voices to the seat of decision-making because it reflects those that you’re trying to bring into the Coyotes world,” Gutiérrez said. “But it also is about focusing on every component of the community. This is an opportunity to go after this growing cohort of young, female, diverse, tech-savvy and purpose-driven fans.”
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