A bit of hockey history has been made in Arizona, and the Gila River Indian Community can take a good chunk of the credit for that.
That's because the community and the National Hockey League's Arizona Coyotes have entered into a historic naming rights partnership.
The Coyotes' home rink, which had been called the Jobing.com Arena since 2006, is now officially called the Gila River Arena. The facility is located in Glendale, a suburb of Phoenix.
"The partnership is the first of its kind," Gila River Indian Community Governor Gregory Mendoza said at a news conference announcing the deal on September 10. "No other tribe in the United States or North America has their name associated with an arena or stadium in the National Hockey League, National Football League, National Basketball Association or Major League Baseball."
Mike Humes, the Coyotes' executive vice-president of corporate and suite sales, said team officials are also rather excited about the move.
"It's very, very positive news," he told ICTMN.
The Gila River Indian Community has been a Coyotes' sponsor for a number of years now. Humes said talks to expand that sponsorship began about a year ago.
"Those discussions began in earnest 4-6 months ago," Humes said. "We just felt it was a natural tie [to expand the sponsorship]; and they obviously see value in that, and are pleased with the return they are getting."
The Coyotes are the old Winnipeg Jets' franchise. The team relocated to Phoenix in 1996. The franchise was known as the Phoenix Coyotes up until this past June, when new ownership renamed it the Arizona Coyotes.
The NHL returned to Winnipeg in 2011 when the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to the Manitoba capital. Like its predecessor in the city, the franchise is called the Winnipeg Jets.
As for the Coyotes' new rink naming agreement, it is a nine-year extension of the Gila River Indian Community's sponsorship of the franchise.
"Our community has had a long and successful relationship with the Arizona Coyotes for many years," Mendoza said. "I am proud to see that we have taken the next step in this relationship by entering into this naming rights partnership."
Mendoza is also pleased the deal his community has entered into creates positive news between Native Americans and a major sports franchise.
"At a time where the national media attention and discourse involving professional sports and American Indians is focussed on negative stereotypes, I am proud to stand with the Arizona Coyotes in forging a new innovative partnership that builds relationships and understanding of each of our communities," he said.
Mendoza believes other Native American tribes might soon be following in the footsteps of the Gila River community.
"It is my hope, that although this agreement is the first of its kind, in the not too distant future we may see other American tribes enter into other similar partnerships," he said.
Humes said he cannot estimate what percentage of those who attend Coyotes' contests are Native American, but he is confident the team's renamed facility will now attract more Native American fans.
"I believe it will," he said. "And I know we're now also going to be more involved with their community."
The hope is signage throughout the renamed Gila River Arena will be available for the Coyotes' regular season opener, which is scheduled for October 9.
The Coyotes are not the only major sports franchise that the Gila River Indian Community sponsors. The community also has sponsorship deals with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals and the MLB's Arizona Diamondbacks.