Seattle Is So Ready For The NHL
Three years ago you see and hear the disdain in Bettman’s voice when the city and arena developers could not get a bid together for that expansion cycle. The NHL wants this market. It is a market that supports and is hungry for the NHL and happens to be the 14th largest TV market. There is a lot of appeal in having a team located here.
Seattle recently became the talk of the hockey world, OK maybe just the NHL world, with the announcement of the the $660 million renovation of the Key Arena and Bettman and Co. giving their stamp of approval for the NHL expansion application. It goes without saying that the Oak View Group (OVG), led by Tim Leiweke had a hell of a month. With the Islanders Belmont awarded and this project being awarded in the same timespan.
Seattle has a long history with the NHL wanting to put a team here. They lost out on the 1970 expansion bid that placed teams in Buffalo and Vancouver. They tried again in 1975 and got an NHL franchise granted, but failed to come up with the $6 million franchise fee. When adjusted for inflation that would be $29 million in 2017 dollars. That is a far cry from the $650 million that it will cost to put an expansion team in Seattle now.
Seattle Is A Hockey Town
So, what kind of a hockey town is Seattle? Can the city support a team? Will they have a rivalry with Vancouver? Lemme take you through my thoughts on the subject and give some context to the state of the game in my city. Being a hockey town, as we all know, requires so much more than butts in seats.
In case you aren’t aware the first American team to win the Stanley Cup was the Seattle Metropolitans. A fact that is not lost on Seattle fans. We recently stood in line at at a local ice rink with 1,000 – 1,500 people for a few seconds with the cup, most of which were not Canadian transplants, but local fans of all ages.
In Lynwood, north of Seattle, last stop for the Stanley Cup and there are 400+ people waiting for their 30 seconds with the cup. @NHL this town is so ready for a team!! @NHLtoSeattle @WWFHA will help with the transition! pic.twitter.com/UGb86vW4Nv
— WaitingforOctober (@Sounder2thecore) December 22, 2017
So, many things make up a hockey city and Las Vegas, though not a hockey town sure as hell is one now. Will it stay a hockey town after the luster wears off? That remains to be seen. It had very little history with the game, but looks to have built a great fan base in city and outside of the state with their preseason roadshow. Phoenix/Glendale has a loser of a team but also has a dedicated and great fanbase. That all despite the fact that the city of Glendale hates them. That said, all of the ice is dedicated to hockey 80% of the time for various youth and college organizations.
WHL Champion Seattle Thunderbirds
I say that because Seattle and the surrounding areas have a vibrant hockey community with great support. This is despite having only a few 5-6 rinks within 50 mile radius. As many fans know the Seattle Thunderbirds won the WHL Trophy in 2016 under the wings of Mat Barzal. What else do they bring to the table? The team located 20 miles south of Seattle, is the only one in the WHL that has a growing fanbase. That fanbase has consistently had better average attendance year over year than other venerable cities. It is also a welcoming community that brings in new fans, buys them a beer and explains offside and icing to noobs. They have a great youth hockey organization in nearby cities. This group of people has built the organization over the years the Thunderbirds are the latest iteration, but the roots go back to the PCHA – the West Coast answer to the NHL.
Quite a lineup of hardware here at Seattle City Hall, including the Stanley Cup. If you look real close you can see the engraving for the Seattle Metropolitans from 100 years ago! #komonews pic.twitter.com/WqEzBspFcz
— Eric Jensen (@EricJensenTV) December 22, 2017
WHL Everett Silvertips – Area Teams With A Rabid Fanbase
Drive 40 minutes up I-5 from Seattle and you arrive at the town of Everett. You also find the Everett Silvertips. The Silvertips find about 5,000 to 6,000 butts in seats on an average night. That number includes a lot of weekday games. Their current goalie Carter Hart is tearing it up for the Silvertips and Team Canada at the World Juniors. The youth programs are well attended and supported and shaped the early career of a guy you might have heard of, T.J. Oshie. Before he moved to Warroad and into the NHL he spent his formative years in the Everett Youth Hockey organization. They are a relatively new hockey town, but they are a great hockey town. There are also great fan bases that follow the Spokane Chiefs, east of the Cascade mountains, a team that boasts the talents of Edmonton’s Kailer Yamamoto and the Portland Winterhawks the Major Junior club for the Isles prospect and recent USA Jr. goal scorer Keifer Bellows. Without a doubt, those fans would support the team, in much the same way the B.C. residents can be spotted sporting Seattle Seahawks gear on any given weekend. Within those two towns there are roughly 11,000 to 14,000 fans going to games for the two teams on any given week. The fan bases of those two teams could alone nearly make up the required deposits for the NHL expansion ticket drive, a tactic that the NHL uses to gauge interest. Outside of that, sports fans in Seattle have been starved for a winter sports team to support for years. With the casual fan, look no further than the success of the Seattle Sounders. The darling of the MLS the team one over fans and continues to grow every year. Different sport, yes, but there enough casual hockey fans to sell out the rest of the deposits.
#Seattle won the Stanley Cup 100 Years Ago.
— Chris Daniels (@ChrisDaniels5) December 21, 2017
Grass Roots And Youth Hockey
There are currently four youth hockey organizations in the area. Kids play with tEverett Youth Hockey, Seattle Junior Hockey Association, Seattle Jr. Thunderbirds and the all female Washington Wild Female Hockey Association. The latter has an affiliation with the NWHL Metro Riveters as a sister association and is flourishing.
The area also boasts an ever increasing number of adult players. The Greater Seattle Area Hockey League and the Seattle Women’s Hockey Club. The GSHL, created in 2001 has grown quickly into an adult hockey organization that is top 10-15 in number of players in all of the US. A remarkable feat in a short time. The SWHC has been a part of the Seattle hockey scene since 1997. They have 100+ players and are constantly bringing new players into the organization.
What else makes Seattle a vibrant hockey community? NHLtoSeattle is an organization run by a player John Barr, that began his career at 26 and has worked for the past decade to bring the NHL to Seattle. He has a seat on the advisory committee for the Seattle City Council and the OVG group.
Hockey is played on multiple rinks everyday, at every age level but that is only part of the picture. There is a full fledged Canadian owned hockey bar, The Angry Beaver. The bar rose from the ashes of an explosion across the street that caused massive damage. It is now better than ever and an off-season haunt of NHL players in town during the offseason. There is an ongoing pick up street hockey game, run by Seattle Street Hockey. They play rain or shine 52 weeks a year.
Can Seattle support a team. Hell yes it can. There is much love, knowledge and dedication to the game in the Pacific Northwest. Oh and our new Mayor just chirped Vancouver about the rivalry. She noted we might not have a team, but we’ve already won the cup. Maybe not the smartest move in these early stages, but you gotta love having her onboard.