While in college, Liz Montaño interned with the Washington Wizards and Mystics. She was inspired by Susan O’Malley, then the president of business operations for the NBA and WNBA franchises.
Montaño told herself she wanted to be president of an NBA franchise. At that time, she didn’t realize all of the challenges she would face as a woman and a Latina in a largely white male-dominated field.
“Representation definitely matters,” she said.
Twenty-plus year later, Montaño is a top executive with a professional sports franchise, believed to be the first Latina chief operations officer in the history of the NHL. Earlier this week, she was named Arizona Coyotes COO after less than a year as Chief Strategy Officer.
The former entrepreneur, film industry executive and consultant from near Santa Barbara, Calif. found her dream job when she came to work for the Coyotes, she said.
“I love sports, I love the impact it has on communities. I love the platform it can be for others, but I also love most that I work for an organization that cares about opening doors for others,” Montaño said. “I know we will succeed. I know this organization is going to be doing great things and I’m really just looking forward to being a part of that.”
With the Coyotes’ announcement on Tuesday of Nick Sakiewicz as the team’s newly-created position of Chief Business Officer, some restructuring on the business end took place. Montaño became the COO, and in her new role will work with Sakiewicz on the revenue side, and now that the Coyotes know they will be playing at ASU’s multipurpose arena for the next few seasons, she can do more with the community.
As COO, Montaño becomes Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez’s right-hand person as far as day-to-day operations on the business side. She’ll remain the head of data analytics for business, and the AHL Tucson Roadrunners business operations staff will report to her.
Montaño also is working with ASU, and the plan is to start planting roots in Tempe to help the organization’s larger goal of a new arena and entertainment district in the city.
“To watch a professional sports team play in a capacity of 5,000 seats, that’s going to be the most amazing experience I think anybody’s had for an NHL game,” Montaño said. “We need to let people know how exciting it’s going to be, build that excitement and really start to build a community around the team that’s going to, at some point in the future, win a Stanley Cup.”
Montaño credits her mother and grandmother as two strong and independent women who, despite not going to college, pushed her to get an advanced education.
“Everything I did I kind of fell into, but it was always for the purpose of really just trying to make my mom proud and trying to do good,” Montaño said,
While working on a Master’s degree in economics at the University of California-Santa Barbara, where one of her mother’s jobs was, Montaño found a book at a 99-cent store called “Monkey Business.”
The book was about two people who went to business school, and that’s how she learned of it. The next move was to apply to Harvard, where she was accepted.
Her plan was to work on Wall Street. But 10 years ago while working in the entertainment industry, she met Gutierrez. At that time, now-Coyotes majority owner Alex Meruelo had expressed interest in buying the Atlanta Hawks.
Montaño expressed interest in working for the Meruelo Group if they bought the NBA team, but it didn’t happen. She and Gutierrez stayed connected over the past decade, and eventually he asked her to come work for the Coyotes.
“She came on board and she’s just been fantastic. She’s been someone who really provides a very sharp approach to complex problems,” Gutierrez said. “She’s also even-keeled in her personality. I think people enjoy her calmness and approach when there are some very large problems that we’ve had to face.”
Montaño looks forward to an office with a window when the Coyotes relocate their offices to the East Valley. At Gila River Arena, team offices are at the service level.
Among her projects is ticketing and seating at the ASU multipurpose arena.
“We’ve been putting together plans in terms of what that looks like for season ticket members as well as new fans. Because we have 5,000-ish capacity, what does that look like for others that can’t get in?” Montaño said.
“So we’re trying to create other opportunities to still be a part of the team, even if you can’t attend every game. We only have those lower bowl seats, which makes it tough financially for some that maybe were able to afford the second level. We want to make sure that they’re still a part of the team, and have some sort of, quote, membership with the club and still continue to keep that affinity with us as we grow.”
Coyotes (17-35-4) at Toronto Maple Leafs (37-16-4), Thursday, 5 p.m., Scotiabank Arena
TV: Bally Sports Arizona | Radio: ESPN 620 AM
Thursday is the second of two head-to-head contests between the Coyotes and Maple Leafs this season. Arizona won the first meeting 2-1 on Jan. 12 in Glendale. … Coyotes F Nick Schmaltz, coming off a seven-point game last Saturday, scored four more points with two goals and two assists in Arizona’s 9-2 rout of Detroit on Tuesday. That gives him 11 points in his last two games, which is the most ever over a pair of contests by a player in Coyotes/Jets franchise history. … Schmaltz has 30 points in his last 20 games since Jan. 17. Since Feb. 9, Schmaltz leads the NHL in points per game (2.10). … F Clayton Keller has seven points in his last two games, and his 24 goals this season are a season high. … D Jakob Chychrun has eight points in his last five games. … F Nick Ritchie is expected to face the Maple Leafs for the first time since he was traded to Arizona from them on Feb. 19. He has five points in five games with the Coyotes. … A win for the Coyotes would be the team’s first four-game win streak since Dec. 31, 2019 – Jan. 7, 2020.