Arizona varsity seal deal with OVG Facilities


Arizona State University arena run by OVG Image: ASU Athletics

The Arizona State University (US) has entered into a 30-year deal with OVG Facilities (a full-service venue management and event programing company) to run a new hockey arena on campus scheduled to open in late 2022, officials from both parties confirmed.

The Arizona State University is a public research university on five campuses across the Phoenix metropolitan area, and four regional learning centers throughout Arizona. The varsity is one of the largest public universities by enrolment in the United States.

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.

Apart from a 5,000-seat arena, there’s a second ice sheet for community use attached to the building’s South side.

The site adjoins the Sun Devil Stadium and the Desert Financial Arena, Arizona State University’s basketball facility. Presently, it is 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 in charge of building the same.

The management term is longer than many deals involving private management, which typically run five to 10 years for arenas and stadia. 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.

Commented Peter Luukko, Chairman, OVG Facilities, and a longtime National Hockey League (NHL) Executive, “We’re making some financial income guarantees. Not only is it a multipurpose facility but one that will be able to host youth hockey and other events.”

Carl Hirsh, Consultant and Managing Partner, Stafford Sports, represented the school in contract negotiations.

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

Considering the NHL Arizona Coyotes have struggled to draw fans over the past 20 years at the highest level of hockey, Arizona State has attracted relatively strong support playing a traditional winter sport in the desert.

After playing club hockey for 35 years, the school launched a National Collegiate Athletic Association (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. They’ve played a dozen home games at Gila River Arena, the Coyotes’ home in Glendale, with most crowds running between 1,700 and 4,000 fans.

Luukko maintained, “In a short period of time, the university has done a tremendous job in building a program.”

This season, due to COVID-19 which has torn to shreds the United States, the Arizona State University is playing all 28 games on the road against the seven Big Ten Conference schools with hockey programs (including Notre Dame).

In the 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 added.

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

The varsity 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 the Arizona State University and private developer Catellus. Hirsh informed that the school sees the arena as a critical piece to help accelerate future development within the district.

The new arena will come armed with 20 suites, two group suites, and a center ice lounge supporting 500 club seats. In the upper level, a social deck will run the length of the arena’s East side. A 942-seat student section will occupy the West side. 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 that we can bring to Phoenix,” Luukko maintained.

He added, “It fills a niche, especially being on campus. We’ve had discussions with promoters, including Live Nation, to look at the type of acts that would play (a small college arena). We feel it fills a void in the marketplace for an arena of that size.”

The Arizona State University and OVG Global Partnerships are partnering 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-seat arena on the University of Texas campus.

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