Arizona State University’s new hockey arena, shown here in a rendering, will sit next to Sun Devil Stadium and Desert Financial Arena. (Courtesy ASU)

New venue on campus will fill niche in Phoenix market

Arizona State University has signed a 30-year deal with OVG Facilities to run a new hockey arena on campus scheduled to open in late 2022, officials with both parties confirmed.

The school’s board of regents approved the $115 million project in November, clearing the way for construction to start in January. The arena will also be home to Arizona State wrestling and women’s gymnastics.

In addition to a 5,000-seat arena, there’s a second ice sheet for community use attached to the building’s south side.

The site is near Sun Devil Stadium and Desert Financial Arena, ASU’s basketball facility. It’s currently a parking lot with some grandstands removed from the school’s track and field venue to clear space for construction.

Stadium Consultants International is designing the hockey arena and Mortenson is building it.

Oak View Group owns VenuesNow.

The management term is longer than many deals involving private management, which typically run five to 10 years for arenas and stadiums. The agreement reflects OVG’s belief in the project and a sport that draws well at  the collegiate level in Tempe, part of Greater Phoenix, company officials said.

“We’re making some financial income guarantees,” said Peter Luukko, chairman of OVG Facilities and a longtime NHL team executive. “Not only is it a multipurpose facility but one that will be able to host youth hockey and other events.”

Carl Hirsh, a consultant and managing partner of Stafford Sports, represented the school in contract negotiations. ASU deferred to Hirsh for comment on the agreement.

“What the university was looking for was a partner to help them, understanding that what they needed was a facility for their teams,” Hirsh said. “They thought there was a chance for this (arena) to be a good enterprise and to help fund athletics.”

Arizona State has attracted relatively strong support playing a winter sport in the desert. After playing club hockey for 35 years, the school launched an NCAA Division I program in 2014 as an independent. They started play in 2015 with most games booked at Oceanside Ice Arena, a small rink in Tempe, where the Sun Devils drew sold-out crowds of 1,000.

“The university has done a tremendous job in building a program,” Luukko said.

This season, due to the pandemic, ASU is playing all 28 games on the road against the seven Big Ten Conference schools with hockey programs (including Notre Dame).

Long term, there have been discussions about Arizona State potentially joining a hockey conference to give the program further stability, and the Big Ten is one option, Hirsh confirmed.

“Once we get through this season and now that the arena is coming out of the ground, those discussions will heat up a bit and a direction will be chosen,” he said.

The new arena has been in the works for several years. At one point, ASU was in talks with the Coyotes to build a sports complex in Tempe with two arenas, but that proposal fell through in 2017.

ASU then proceeded on its own to develop a hockey venue. It will be funded through a combination of arena operations revenue tied to ticket sales and concessions and private donations.

In 2030, income generated from the Novus Innovation Corridor, a 355-acre mixed-use district in downtown Tempe, will add another source of financing to pay construction debt, school officials said.

The district is a partnership between ASU and private developer Catellus. 

The new arena will feature 20 suites, two group suites, and a center ice lounge supporting 500 club seats. In addition, there will be a state-of-the-art videoboard and an LED ribbon board.

“It will be one of the nicest buildings in Division I hockey, but equally as important, we can host family shows and concerts and some of the mid-range events,” Luukko said.

ASU and OVG Global Partnerships are combining efforts to sell premium seats and sponsorships. Pac-12 Properties holds the school’s multimedia rights.

The school has been working on its own to sell naming rights, most likely to a philanthropic donor, sources said. 

For OVG Facilities, the deal expands its presence in the college space. Elsewhere, the firm runs sports venues at the University of Miami and the University of Houston, among others, plus booking and marketing agreements with Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena and Kentucky’s Rupp Arena.

In Austin, Texas, Oak View Group is financing the construction of Moody Center, a new 15,000-sat arena on the University of Texas campus.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated since it was first posted.