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Alex Meruelo On A Mission To Bring Valley Hispanics Into Hockey Fandom

by Jose M. Romero

Alex Meruelo made hockey history when he purchased controlling interest in the Arizona Coyotes last month to become the National Hockey League's first Hispanic owner.

So it made a lot of sense, on his first day on the job at Gila River Arena, to make more history and speak to Coyotes fans in Spanish at his introductory press conference.

"Para mi es un gran orgullo estar aqui con ustedes," Meruelo said. "Tener la oportunidad de comprar el primer equipo de hockey siendo hispano. Es algo muy grande para mi y un gran orgullo. Estoy aquí para ustedes. Quiero que me acompañen, me apoyen, y yo espero la oportunidad para traer un Stanley Cup para el estado de Arizona y para ustedes."

"It's a great honor to be here with you all. To have the opportunity to buy the first hockey team as a Hispanic. It's something really big for me and a source of great pride. I'm here for you. I want you to join me, support me, and I look forward to the opportunity to bring a Stanley Cup for the state of Arizona and for you."

The son of Cuban immigrants worked his way to owning a pizza chain and construction and food manufacturing businesses. Then came success in the banking, gaming and media industries to becoming a billionaire and owning his first sports team, the Coyotes.

On the day he was announced as principal owner of the team, he sought to make clear that he will market his franchise to a community often overlooked when it comes to the sport of hockey - Hispanics.

"I believe Arizona is about 40 percent Hispanic, and to have them as part of my team, not only everybody but also them," Meruelo said. "I know that there hasn't been much interest as far as the Hispanic market. I expect to change that, and at the same time I want to bring them a winner."

Other sports teams in the Valley have acknowledged and honored the large Latino community in greater Phoenix and the state, one with a rich history that goes back centuries.

The Coyotes are poised to join those local teams in making Hispanics a valued part of their fan base.

"We're going to look at everything," Coyotes president and CEO Ahron Cohen said. "That's something that I take responsibility for. We have not done a very good job over the past several years of reaching out to the Hispanic community. And we have the right person now to really connect with that community."

Meruelo offered another strong statement, when asked what message he has for the Hispanic population that is opening itself up to hockey for the very first time. 

"Quisiera que la comunidad ir a los juegos y me apoyaran. Sepa que estoy aqui para ellos y que pienso a representarlo con mucha promesa."

"I would want the the community to go to the games and support me," he said. "To know that I am here for them and to represent them with a lot of promise."

It's a new venture for a team and a sport rarely associated with Hispanics despite the demographics of the metropolitan area and state. But Meruelo has proven with his business acumen and previous success that a marketing strategy can be established and implemented.

Meruelo also made sure the longtime Coyotes fans in the region knew his mission and of his intention to keep the team in Arizona.

"I'm very committed to this state, to the Valley, to the fans of Arizona, to the team of Arizona, the residents. I'm committed to stay here. I will do everything in my heart to make sure that we can make it viable," he said. "I will not stop until we bring a Stanley Cup to the Valley. That is my goal, my commitment, and hopefully my promise to keep to all of you guys."

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