NHL.com’s Q&A feature called “Five Questions With …” runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers, and the latest news.
The latest edition features Alex Meruelo, who became the NHL’s first Hispanic owner when he assumed majority ownership of the Arizona Coyotes in July.
Alex Meruelo looks at the Phoenix area’s 40 percent Hispanic population and sees a trove of potential new Arizona Coyotes fans.
Meruelo, the NHL’s first Hispanic owner, has made boosting the Coyotes’ popularity by increasing its Hispanic fan base a mission since he assumed majority ownership in July.
“It’s a market that’s really gone untapped since the beginning,” said Meruelo, who is Cuban-American. “I think if we do the right things attracting the fans, the players, the community, the Hispanic community, we’ll have a lot of success with it.”
Meruelo, a billionaire who made his fortune in turning around struggling companies, has been aggressive in doing his part to try to make it happen.
He spoke Spanish at his introductory press conference in August. He cut a video in Spanish in September to announce the launch of the Coyotes’ Spanish-language social media accounts on Instagram (@LosYotes), Twitter (@LosYotes) and Facebook (Facebook.com/LosYotes); those accounts feature exclusive photos, videos and articles for Spanish-speaking fans.
Meruelo heads the Coyotes recently-formed Hispanic Board to help improve the team’s Hispanic outreach.
“We are very fortunate to have Mr. Meruelo as the first Hispanic owner of an NHL team,” Coyotes president & CEO Ahron Cohen said in October. “We finally have the right person in place to connect with the Hispanic community and build a genuine relationship.”
The 55-year-old spoke with NHL.com about the outreach efforts and how it helps to have a person of color in team ownership.
Here are Five Questions with … Alex Meruelo.
When did you see your first NHL game in person, and what were your thoughts after that game?
“I remember my first game was about 20 years ago and it was a (Los Angeles) Kings game. As soon as I saw the game, I was hooked: the adrenaline rush, the excitement, the fast play … there’s no other sport, to me, that comes anywhere close to hockey when it comes to watching it live.”
You are the NHL’s first Hispanic owner. As such, do you feel a responsibility to grow the game within the Hispanic community in Arizona and beyond?
“I’m not sure I actually feel more of a responsibility. But I have an obligation — especially being in Arizona, where the market is about 40 percent Hispanic. It’s a tremendous opportunity to really present the game to them, and we’re working on that right now. But me being Hispanic and understanding the market is where we plan to start moving forward, and I think there will be a lot of excitement by the community and by myself, personally, so we focus now and we move from there.”
A series of interesting events occurred during the summer: You assumed majority ownership of the Coyotes, Auston Matthews, a Mexican-American player from Arizona, was picked to be the face of the NHL as the cover athlete for EA Sports NHL 20, and a hockey tournament featuring players from Latin American countries took place near Miami. Are all these signs that interest in hockey is growing within the Hispanic community?
“To be able to see a Hispanic player involved in hockey, like Auston — and myself, being one of the first majority owners — is something that, to me, is making a huge difference and will continue to make more differences. I think, to me, what we do with it, how we outreach to the Hispanic community, will make a big difference. First of all, we’re very involved in visiting communities, Latino communities, having them understand how the game is played and getting them more involved and actually watching games. The second thing we’re doing is we’re setting up an advisory board where we’re going to have Hispanic leaders from the community in the valley to assist us with information and help and areas that we can focus on that can bring us more with the Hispanic community. … I want the Hispanic community to know that we’re here for them and that we want them more and more involved every day. Whether you’re playing the game, watching the game or being with your family, I think it’s important.”
Why is that so important?
The obvious is that in Arizona as we know, especially in the valley, 40 percent of the market is Hispanic and it’s a market that’s really gone untapped since the beginning. I think if we do the right things attracting the fans, the players, the community, the Hispanic community, we’ll have a lot of success with it.
Is there a right way and a wrong way for hockey to reach out to the Hispanic community?
“I believe that if we take the time to do the correct marketing, reach out to the communities in the Hispanic market, make ourselves visible, actually take meetings and explain the game to them and take them to actual Coyotes games, I truly believe that it won’t take very long before they are excited wanting to go to the games, be part of the games and play the game.”
-Photo courtesy of Norm Hall/Arizona Coyotes