Photo: Ahron Cohen, CEO of the Arizona Coyotes
Ahron Cohen celebrated his first anniversary as president and CEO of the Arizona Coyotes this past summer. An anniversary of any kind is a means of celebration, but this one is made extra special by the fact that Ahron is also the youngest CEO ever of a major sports franchise.
He joined the Coyote’s organization in August of 2015 as the club’s general counsel. He eventually became their COO and then in July 2018, became CEO.
Growing up outside of Minneapolis, you would think that Ahron was playing hockey from an early age, but that’s not the case.
“I was one of the few people that didn’t play much hockey up there – other than some pond hockey with some friends,” he says. “I was a diehard basketball player and football player, and then I played football in college. For my bar mitzvah in Minnesota, we had a basketball court set up in the synagogue. That was the activity, rather than dancing and stuff, we just played basketball.”
He went from one hockey hotbed to another, leaving Minnesota to attend college at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME. With sports being such an enormous part of his upbringing, he wanted to find a way to stay involved with sports in some capacity for his career. He even considered going into broadcasting, having hosted a sports talk radio show in college.
Ahron began giving thought to attending law school. “A number of front office executives throughout sports have a legal background, so I thought that that was a nice way to kind of try to stay involved and open up some doors,” he says.
Ahron’s career fate was sealed when he came with his father in 2006 to tour the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. “It was -10 (degrees) when I left Minnesota and I get here and it’s 70 degrees, and from day one I fell in love with the whole community,” says Ahron.
He hustled when he got to law school and earned himself a legal and business affairs internship with the Minnesota Vikings. He would work with the Vikings during breaks from law school and then moved back to Minnesota to work with them after graduating.
“I was working for the Viking’s chief operating officer, Kevin Warren who was from Phoenix,” says Ahron. “He’s a great mentor of mine, and that’s where I got my sports legal background.”
Kevin advised Ahron that to be a good attorney, he had to get training at the best law firm he could. He convinced his soon-to-be-wife, Dana, to move back to Phoenix with him. “That was an easy sell to get out of the Minnesota winters,” he jokes.
Dana and Ahron met right before he graduated from Bowdoin, and when he came to Arizona for law school, she joined him. She attended Midwestern University, becoming a certified physician assistant. She currently works in family medicine with Honor Health.
When the couple returned to Arizona, Ahron got a position at Snell & Wilmer L.L.P where he practiced as a corporate attorney. While at Snell, he served as outside legal counsel to the 2015 Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee. Then in the summer of 2015, he joined the Coyotes.
As CEO, Ahron realized that the organization didn’t have clearly defined goals and objectives, so he set up what he refers to as the “three pillars.”
“Those three pillars are: being competitive and winning on the ice, promoting fandom and building fandom throughout the entire state, and, I view this just as important as the other two, is making a positive impact on the Arizona community,” says Ahron.
“This past year we’ve really been very deliberate and intentional in terms of the pursuit those goals,” he continues. “This past season we’ve set franchise records in virtually every business metric that we have.” The team set a record for ticket revenue, sponsorship revenue, they saw a 26% increase in television viewership and they ranked third in the National Hockey League in terms of social media engagement rate.
What makes Ahron the proudest is that over this past season the Coyotes as well as the Arizona Coyotes Foundation raised and are now distributing more than $3,000,000 back into the community.
“It really touches your heart to see the impact that we as a sports team can make in this community,” he says.
Beneficiaries of these funds include Phoenix Children’s Hospital; New World Education Center in Central Phoenix that received all the supplies and help to construct a new playground and donations of sticks and pucks to establish a street hockey P.E. curriculum for more than 300 schools affecting roughly 200,000 students this year.
“We do everything we can to promote and grow hockey in our state, and our motto is that we’re not going to rest until every single person in the state is exposed to hockey,” jokes Ahron.
Ahron is living that motto, teaching street hockey in the driveway to his toddler son, Carson, who loves to come to Coyotes games and meet the mascot Howler. He plans to teach his infant son, Cameron when he gets older. The family recently joined Temple Kol Ami.
“If you would have told me when I was 20 years old or when I was back in Minnesota, ‘When you’re 35 you’re going to be living in Phoenix, AZ being the CEO of the Arizona Coyotes hockey team,’ I would not have imagined that in my wildest dreams,” says Ahron.
Believe it, Ahron, dreams sometimes do come true.