Vulgar Statistics: The Viability Of A Seattle NHL Franchise
Earlier this week, it was confirmed that the current Sacramento Kings (NBA) owners, the Maloofs, have sold 65% of the Kings to the Chris Hansen led Seattle ownership group for $525 million with the intent of moving the team to Seattle. Many see this (after the approval and construction of the new downtown arena) as the next step in eventually getting an NHL team in Seattle. And because the price tag was so high (and to add to that, the arena proposal is roughly $400 million), the opinion is that Seattle will need an NHL team to make the arena, and the deal worth it. According to James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail, the league really likes Seattle as a market, even though it’s a poor market for hockey. Huh?
I asked him where he was coming from because it sounded like he was talking out of his a**. It turns out he was basing his opinion on having lived near Seattle (fair enough), and on USA Hockey’s latest state-by-state participation numbers. He said that Washington State was 25th, right ahead of North Carolina, and that Raleigh is a good comparable in terms of support. As you can see in the link, most of those things are not actually true.
Washington state is 18th in total participants, and 27th in per capita hockey participation. (North Carolina is 21st and 33rd respectively.) Not that this is a good basis anyway as Washington’s population is concentrated in the Seattle-Tacoma area. It’s a little like using Rochester when calculating New York Rangers fan support. In any event, the Greater Seattle Hockey League has long been known as the largest recreational adult hockey league in the Northwest, and one of the largest in the country.
Seattle is the 22nd largest city in the United States, right behind Boston. (Raleigh is 42nd.) That doesn’t even take into account nearby Bellevue, Redmond, or Sammamish which add around 230,000 people between the three of them. One of the knocks on a hockey team in Seattle is that the team would be the city’s 6th pro sports team behind the Seahawks (NFL), Mariners (NBA), Sounders (MLS), Storm (WNBA), and (presumably) Sonics (NBA). While the city is indeed crazy about its Hawks, Sounders, and Basketball, the Storm and (especially) the (pathetic, cheap, somewhat hated) Mariners aren’t major competitors.
Consider the Seattle Thunderbirds, and the Everett Silvertips of the WHL. They play in Kent and Everett, about 30-60 minutes from the city depending on where you’re coming from. Despite competition from the aforementioned teams, and somewhat difficult to access arenas, the 8th place (in their division) Silvertips and 9th place Thunderbirds finished 8th and 12th out of 22 teams in attendance. I know the northwest is often ignored, but these people show up. They draw 60,000+ for regular season soccer games. Getting close to 20,000 people to go to a hockey game in a stadium in the middle of downtown Seattle is not out of the question.
Of course attendance is only part of the equation, and with so many other teams, will anyone have anything left for hockey merchandise? If the median household incomes of Redmond (~$70,000), Bellevue (~$80,000), and Sammamish (~$120,000) don’t answer that question, consider this: Seattle’s median household income is $45,736 which would put it 6th among American NHL cities and 12th among all NHL cities. Of those U.S. cities (Anaheim, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Washington D.C.) one (San Jose) has always drawn well, another two (Los Angeles and Washington D.C.) currently draw well, and the remaining two have drawn well with good teams. It’s also worth nothing that in terms of value, the Kings are ranked 10th, the Stars 11th, the Capitals 12th, the Sharks 16th, and the Ducks 19th by Forbes. All of them also compete with other professional sports franchises. San Jose, with it’s similar tech-driven wealth and high profile companies, might actually be the best comparison to Seattle, and hockey has flourished there.