CHANDLER, Ariz. – A buzz of excitement spread throughout the Gila River Resorts and Casinos – Wild Horse Pass in September.
Streamers and balloons filled the casino floor as a drumline of people marched down an escalator banging on their drums to orchestrate the occasion. The elation had nothing to do with gambling or blackjack, rather from a professional hockey team delivering some news.
The popular Arizona Coyotes’ black Kachina home jerseys are getting a new look for the 2022-23 season with the Gila River Resorts and Casinos patch. The Coyotes organization was live from the casino to announce a new multi-year partnership extension with Gila River becoming their official brand sponsor.
Not only is this deal significant being the NHL’s first Native American jersey sponsor, but also due to its impact on the Gila River Indian community. Many prominent community members were spotlighted and given their own customized Coyotes jersey at last week’s announcement.
“We have so many members in the Gila River community who are sports fans,” Gila River Resorts & Casinos CEO Kenneth Manuel said. “They’re going to be so excited about this announcement. It was an honor to have our Gila River community council members and our Lieutenant Governor be here today to be part of this celebration, and to also announce the evolution of our partnership.”
The community, which is home to citizens of the Akimel O’odham and the Pee-Posh tribes, has a population of more than 11,000, according to the 2020 census, and is 583.4 square miles, most to the south of Phoenix.
The relationship could also have economic benefits for the hockey team. A study by the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth found that the nation’s Native American buying power rose from $84 billion in 2010 to $140 billion in 2020. Arizona is ranked fourth among states with the largest Native American markets.
The partnership between Gila River and Coyotes goes back over 15 years. The Coyotes played at Gila River Arena before its lease was terminated by the City of Glendale last spring.
Coyotes President and CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez says that the team will make more money from sewing Gila River Resorts & Casinos on its jerseys than it ever did while displaying the name on the Coyotes arena.
“They’re going to be a larger revenue partner for us this year than they were previously. As far as the total package, they’ve increased their spend,” he said in an ESPN article. “We have a longtime partner that believes in what we’re doing, that believes in the club and believes in the temporary, intimate location that we’re playing in. They see it and understand it.”
Gila River Resorts & Casinos Public Relations manager Daniela Vizcarra believes that this historic partnership will open the doors for other tribal communities to be involved with sports sponsorships.
“It’ll definitely get our name and our community members out there,” Vizcarra said. “It’s that awareness to come out to the (Coyotes) games that elevates our partnership because now we’re even more integrated with the Coyotes.”
In addition, Gila River plans to participate in a multitude of community activations and events throughout Coyotes home games including theme nights.
“It’s (Gila River) a community that we really want to activate not only at our games, and in our arena, but also as part of their efforts with their great folks,” Gutierrez said.
What once started as a small sponsorship is now going to be first in the nation when it comes to Native American communities.
“The Gila River Indian Community is 20,000 plus members strong,” Manuel said. “We have a large number of our community members who work for the organization. Everything that we do at Gila River Resorts and Casinos, we share with the entire team. This is an amazing team. And we’re excited to announce this to everybody.”
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