Phoenix: Preparation for Migratory Sports

Extreme population and area growth in Phoenix, Arizona in the 1950s supported the importation of migration-based sports, like hockey. Throughout the 1950s, Phoenix experienced about a 300% population increase and nearly an 1100% area expansion (Phoenix, 2013). This growth pushed Phoenix from the 99th rank city in the U.S. to 29 (Phoenix 2003, 44).  

In 1965, the Arizona State Fair Commission desired a multipurpose facility with unobstructed, arena seating for events ranging from livestock shows to concerts and sports. Associated Capitol Architects submitted the winning proposal, a hyperbolic-paraboloid arena covering approximately 2.75 acres (Az State Fairgrounds 1966).

Despite the deep Sonoran Desert locale, the commission and builders included facilities and mechanization for seemingly out-of-place activities. If taken by itself, including amenities for ice skating and hockey appears to be a random whim of the rich. However, Texas supported several minor professional hockey teams starting in the 1920s (Farris 2016). Eventually, these teams would lead to the World Hockey Association (WHA). In preparation for creating northeastern winters in the desert, engineers ensured the coliseum could produce artificial ice.

Oklahoma business men brought hockey to Phoenix. First, they forced their Tulsa Oilers team to play a few exhibition games. In 1967, the Western Hockey League granted franchise for a new team in Phoenix, who would be called the Roadrunners. In 1974, the Roadrunners switched allegiances to the WHA, a new competitor to the National Hockey league.

PHXRoadrunnersWHA.png
World Hockey Association Logo (1974-77)

With Major League Soccer, three major league sports are rooted in the immigrant community. The immigrant community saved baseball. Additionally, baseball forced many sports related immigration quotas. Soccer started out as a national level amateur sport with attention during the Olympics. Basketball failed to discover international talent until 1990 with Valde Divac and Dikembe Mutombo. Hockey started as sport of immigrants, by immigrants, but for the common people.

In the WHL (1967-1974) and WHA (1974-77) years, only three Americans played for the Phoenix Roadrunners. During the WHA years, two Americans and four Finns played. Pekka Rautakallio (centered) offered his personal story about migrating to America for temporary work.

Typically, we associate migratory work with farmers or even the early 20th century. In the Southwest, where I grew up, I learned about migrant farmworker programs. But who knew that the Phoenix Roadrunners would eventually lead to Austin Matthews from Scottsdale, Az and winner of the Rocket Richard trophy for most goals in the NHL.

Sources:
Arizona State Fairground Brochure on the Coliseum, 1966, Arizona Memory Project.
1960 Census Supplementary Reports: Rank of Cities of 100,000 or More: 1960 PC(S1)-7, census.gov
2013 Summary of Community Profile and Trends, Phoenix.gov
McCartney, Earl “ICE Factory”, The Arizona Republic, February 13, 1966, retrieved from https://www.newspapers.com/clip/78675623/arizona-republic/
“Contract Signing” Arizona Republic, June 17, 1965. Retrieved from Clipping from Arizona Republic – Newspapers.com
Phoenix Roadrunners’ Logo, wikimedia. Retrieved from PHXRoadrunnersWHA – Phoenix Roadrunners (WHA) – Wikipedia
Farris, Jason (ed.) “Texas on Ice: Pro Strides to the Stars – the 1942/3 to 1992/3 Seasons” 2016

Sports Immigration: Phoenix RoadRunners (WHA)

Since the late-19th century, sportspeople shared a common experience with migrant laborers, especially in the United States. Out of all sports, baseball shares the greatest link with immigration. In the early-20th century, immigrant fans saved baseball from extinction. Since then, baseball imported so many players that there is a cap. Yet, America would not have (modern) hockey if there was no immigration. From this American’s point of view, hockey is an immigrant’s game. Like many of the migrant laborers, the United States absorbed hockey into its fabric.

From Minnesota to Maine, hockey brought immigrants and immigrants brought hockey. Fishermen from Nova Scotia plying trade in Boston, like Mickey Roach’s family. Or, the frontier elite traveling to find personal success in New York City, like Tom Howard. Due to the cold northern climates, the migration of hockey and laborers make sense in the mid-Atlantic and mid-west states. However, hockey continued traveling south and so did the players and staff.

In the 1960s, Oklahoma business men brought hockey to the Sonoran Desert. They built the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum at the Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona. While they expected bands and basketball, they wanted hockey.

Before receiving the franchise for the RoadRunners, the Oklahoma businessmen brought teams from Tulsa to play in 1966. In 1967, the league awarded a franchise license. The owners moved the Victoria Maple Leafs from British Columbia to play in the desert.

Prior to the Immigration Act of 1990, sportspeople competed for the same visas as laborers. Despite teams and agents eased their journey for H-1 or H-2 visas, they are immigrants. As immigrants, they supported and added diversity to their communities. Many studied the relationship between baseball, immigration, and the value. However, many have not looked into how hockey changed their community. Whereas most baseball players remain, hockey players mainly return. Similar to early-20th Century European migrant laborers, they brought their American trunk home.

Immigrant Players Steal Bases And Basketballs, Not Jobs (forbes.com)
Extraordinary Ability and the English Premier League: The Immigration, Adjudication, and Place of Alien Athletes in American and English Society (valpo.edu) (Pages 545-549 or 6-10 of 67)
Round-Trip to America: the Immigrants Return to Europe, 1880-1930 Mark Wyman