GLENDALE -- If long-suffering Coyotes fans are happy to have the team's elongated ownership saga behind them, Ted Santiago is downright giddy.
While the cash-strapped Coyotes were fighting an uphill battle on the ice, the team's vice president of marketing has fought the good fight selling a hockey team whose future in Arizona was never more than a month-to-month proposition. But now, with new ownership led by George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc, there is a secure future in the desert and an expanded budget to build off three playoff appearances in the last four years.
And Santiago finally has a level sheet of ice to play on in the Valley's saturated sports scene.
Even when the Coyotes reached new heights on the ice, winning their first division title and reaching the Western Conference Final in 2012, a work stoppage kept the team off the ice for seven months and took most of the steam out of the momentum. Before the 2012-13 season finally began in January, questions about whether it would be the final season in Arizona were already flying.
"Over the past four seasons (with the team first in bankruptcy and then owned by the NHL) it's been tough for us -- we never knew with 100 percent certainty that there would be another season," Santiago said. "This year, with the deal close (in early July), it gave us the leeway to develop a comprehensive campaign and the ability to launch sooner than we have."
Working off the "Here to Stay" mantra they have used during the summer, the Coyotes will introduce their 2013-14 marketing slogan, "Hungrier than Ever," with a 60-second television commercial during Sunday's Arizona Cardinals' NFL regular season opener with the St. Louis Rams.
The spot creeps in slowly on the face of the franchise, captain Shane Doan, sitting, still dressed for battle in an empty dressing room. The team obviously remains comfortable with the underdog mentality it has embraced over the years, focusing in the spot on its ability to out-hustle, out-think and out-battle opponents, backed by new ownership and a coach in Dave Tippett they're willing to "follow to hell and back" to reach their goal.
"Shane embodies the spirit of the team, which made it appropriate to launch the new era with him," Santiago said. "He sat in that stall for more than two hours, take after take, to make sure we got it perfect."
Doan is a big part of the team's history in Arizona, but all the other facets of the campaign point to the future.
"Even without an owner, we were a quality team fighting a negative perception. But now the past is the past. It's behind us," Santiago said. "We're here, we're an entertainment option, we're a great product and we're very excited about the team and the organization we have. We want people to know it's OK to invest yourself in the Coyotes because we're not going anywhere."
Billboards will follow the TV spots featuring other top players and complementary catchphrases capturing the team's toughness ("Glove. Pads. Face. Whatever stops the puck."), teamwork ("We check our egos at the blue line."), underdog status ("We skate under the radar."), style of play ("Old school, New era.") and togetherness ("Different last names. Same family.").
The Coyotes won't say how many season tickets or suites they have sold, only that the trend continues upward. But having Gosbee and LeBlanc -- Canadians with hockey in their blood and a solid business track record who are fully invested in every step of the process -- driving the bus, long-time members of the organization like Santiago are energized and brimming with optimism.
"It's gratifying to have ownership that wants to be involved," Santiago said. "Anthony and George get it. They ask the right questions. They know the game, they understand marketing and creating the brand that will be accepted and embraced by Arizona."
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