Could the 2014 Winter Olympics Give Birth to NHL in Seattle?
The Emerald City would be pure gold for the NHL.
According to a Seattle Times article by Geoff Baker, NHL brass seem to have aims at league expansion, and Seattle might be the most coveted of franchise destinations. There’s a particularly juicy line where “sources” state the NHL may make a major announcement of some sort about the future of top-tier hockey in the Puget Sound region, hoping to capitalize off a wave of hockey interest and enthusiasm being generated by the 2014 Winter Olympics going on in Sochi. Imagine if they were to make an announcement of that importance to the backdrop and fanfare of a Team USA gold medal win in hockey.
Naturally, there are a lot of other cities vying for the NHL to expand and many would be good-to-great fit. None would be better than Seattle, though. Here’s why:
The NHL is a business that ultimately cares about the bottom line, the almighty dollar. Seattle ranks about 14th largest in metro area population, television market size and Median Household Income. That’s about 4,000,000 potential fans/customers in the metro alone, many of which are financially well off. Furthermore, quite a few Fortune 500 companies are headquartered there like Microsoft, Boeing and Starbucks. Many other businesses and corporations have large presences there as well. That makes for a broad, deep pool of potential millionaire-billionaire owners and investors for the NHL to woo.
The league would be wise to do all that it can to expand there ASAP. Many fans were jilted when the Seattle SuperSonics were sold and moved to Oklahoma. While the population went bonkers when the MLS expanded into area, giving them the Seattle Sounders FC, there are still calls to bring in a new team. Granted, most of those want a team of the NBA variety, but a demand for another team and another sport is there nonetheless. If an NHL team can be founded there soon, it could gain a foothold for three or four years; that’s plenty of time to gain a core fanbase and perhaps even field a competitor the city can fall in love with.
And make no mistakes about it; Seattle is a darn good sports town. The stereotype of a bunch of latte sipping, flannel clad urbanites sitting around, discussing the newest alternative-rock album is certainly not without its merits, but the city truly loves its sports. The Seattle Seahawks and their 12th Man fans are so boisterous and ravenous they sometimes literally cause earthquakes due to all that jumping and noise at CenturyLink Field. An estimated 700,000 people also showed up for Super Bowl winner parades. The world’s game, soccer, is still very much a fringe sport in the U.S., and the MLS, though an entertaining brand, is no English Premier League. That doesn’t stop the Sounders from averaging a whopping 44,000 fans per game. If a soccer team from a less than prestigious league can thrive there, surely an NHL team can get by.
Heck, hockey is a fringe sport throughout the lion’s share of the nation, and that suits Seattle just fine. The residents of the Pacific Northwest, especially in Seattle and Portland, are known for being quirky and quick to try new things; it’s in their DNA and is a big part of what makes Seattle so unique and great. They’d probably welcome an alternative fringe sport or, at worst, certainly give it a shot.
Putting a team in Seattle doesn’t come without its challenges. Unlike Kansas City, there’s not a suitable arena there awaiting them. Key Arena has been out of date since the calendars flipped their pages to the current millennium. It might serve as a band-aid, but the league would be insane to move into Seattle before locking down an arena deal with the city. The city might only help fund an arena if there’s a deal to have an NBA as a co-tenant.
These are hurdles worth jumping. The Olympics may give hockey a huge shot in the arm, but even if its impact is minimal, there’s a huge swath of land in America’s most northwest corner that has never had an NHL team to call its own. Putting an expansion team in Seattle gives the brand of hockey a chance to grow and flourish, and it also gives Seattle sports fans another reason to hate Vancouver.
Surely the home of the 12th Man can be home to a fourth (or fifth) team.