By Catherine Silverman
The Arizona Coyotes are one of the NHL teams most prominently poised to see an explosion of growth among Hispanic fans. The state of Arizona not only has the fourth-largest Hispanic population share in the United States, with an estimated 2.3 million Hispanic residents making up roughly 31 percent of the total population, but it has one of the fastest-growing Hispanic population shares nationwide. Arizona’s statewide population grows by about 1.7 percent each year, but the Hispanic population grows annually by roughly 2.1 percent. By 2030, the state is predicted to become a majority-minority population.
Those are the demographic figures that make former investment banking analyst Xavier Gutierrez uniquely suited for his new role as president and CEO of the Arizona Coyotes. Gutierrez, who was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, became the first Hispanic NHL president and CEO June 8, 2020 when he rejoined forces with longtime friend and Arizona Coyotes majority owner Alex Meruelo. Together, he and Meruelo are the first Hispanic ownership-CEO duo in league history, something they hope will put the team in a position to ultimately jumpstart the growth of hockey in Latino communities.
Gutierrez didn’t grow up in a hockey household, but he joined the Coyotes with both a background in business growth and a long-standing passion for sports that stemmed from player representation.
On the business side, Gutierrez spent over 20 years working in both private and public equity investment. He’s spent time working in real estate, banking and investments and acquisitions in the private sector, with a year spent as a financial analyst for the NFL league office in 1996 to bring some sports finances into the mix on his resume. He’s also served as a voting member of the US Securities Exchange Commission Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies, which focused specifically on business and publicly traded companies with a market capitalization of less than $250 million, and he served on the board of directors of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. A graduate of Harvard University, where he received his bachelor’s degree, and of Stanford University, where he received his doctor of jurisprudence, Gutierrez has robust experience working in the world of business growth and viability.
On the sports side, though, is where his passion for increasing Arizona’s Latino hockey representation shines through. He explained upon accepting his new role that he grew up in a soccer household but branched out into baseball and football fandom (rooting for the L.A. Dodgers and the Oakland Raiders) as he watched Latino stars in each sport take their leagues by storm. It’s that kind of representation that he hopes to see in hockey in the future, which would serve as a catalyst to tapping into Arizona’s fastest-growing fan market.
His influence in Arizona’s front office has already started, even as the Coyotes and the NHL at large struggle with unprecedented interruptions caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He delivered his opening remarks after getting hired via Zoom conference, addressing the media and fans in both English and Spanish. He finished his introductory speech by saying “Ustedes se puedas senti un parte de nuestra familia; este equipo es su equipo”, which translates to “you can feel like a part of our family; this team is your team”.
The organization has already started their outreach to local Latino businesses, promoting hispanic small-business owners via spotlights during Hispanic Heritage Month and rolling out a Hispanic Heritage rebrand of the Tucson Roadrunners, the team’s AHL affiliate, for their own spotlight events down the road. Expect more of those ties moving forward, as the organization looks to tap into a sorely underutilized market in their home state. But even while pushing for increased diversity, expect Gutierrez to quietly work behind the scenes on other arms of the team’s long-overdue business growth. He’ll be expected to flex his real estate expertise to finally negotiate a long-term arena solution for the Coyotes, which will be the first key step to truly pulling them from the league’s basement and pushing them back into financially solvent territory.