NHL Expansion & Seattle Update

It’s been a while since I have posted anything here. I figured we all needed a cooling off period after the NHL application deadline came and passed with no Seattle applicants. It was rumored (but not confirmed) that 4 of the 16 NHL expansion application requests came from the Seattle area. The details of why no one from the region actually applied for expansion were never revealed. Revealed through spokespersons and local press, at least 2 Seattle parties (Coleman/Sodo & Bartoszek/Tukwilla) of the 4 vowed to continue their pursuit of an Arena/NHL franchise.

At the end of the deadline, only Quebec City and Las Vegas submitted their applications by the league mandated deadline of July 20th. It looked as if all was lost for Seattle and yet another chapter of our unsuccessful attempts at landing an NHL team could be written. However…there have been a couple items of interest that have popped up recently.

Seattle Arena

The Seattle arena project located in SoDo (Hansen/Coleman) cleared some expected, but critical hurdles. Early last month, the Seattle Downtown Design Review Board gave final approval on the Seattle Arena and 2 days later the Seattle Design Commission unanimously approved the public benefit of the project. This will require a final vote by Seattle City Council which should occur sometime in December. This should not be a contentious issue as the City Council usually takes the recommendation of the Design Review Board. Too little, too late? Maybe…but moving forward reduces any friction for any future opportunities. One thing we might get out of this final vote is to hear if Hansen and/or Coleman have a strategy to make the NHL or NBA team happen. As far as I know, the MOU is written for a basketball-first scenario, but that is only upon the condition of funding, so technically, Hansen (with help) could start building as soon as this final city council vote is made (and passed).

Key Arena study

Last week King5 reported that the Seattle City Council commissioned a study (back in 2012) to look at options on what to do with Key Arena. One of those potential options was to renovate the Key to make it compliant to both NHL and NBA standards for an estimated price tag of $285M. This was just one of the options the consulting firm came up with regarding the site. With more questions than answers, I think it is safe to say this probably won’t happen for a variety of reasons. Who pays the $285M? Would a potential NBA or NHL owner want to play at the Key? Would the league(s) even approve it as a potential site? Oh, and there is that entire traffic thing. I give this a generous 5% chance of getting legs, so don’t get that wound up about the Seattle City Council (of 2012) for just doing some level of due diligence.

NHL Expansion

In spite of Gary Bettman’s attempts to lower NHL fans expectations for expansion, most of us assumed that expanding by two was pretty much a done deal. With two strong applicants, it appeared that Quebec City and Las Vegas shooting on empty nets to get teams. They both have a great shot of getting teams, but skepticism started creeping in the media in early September. Sportsnet, The Globe and Mail and Washington Post ran stories on why NHL expansion is no done deal. After the BOG meeting this week, Bettman reaffirmed the “no timetable”, “lot of work” & “no guarantee” regarding expansion. This triggered Seattle to start bleeding back into the conversation.

Pierre Lebrun ran a story that theorized Seattle could get back into the race with this little snippet.

“the NHL has said that if it does expand, it could be by only one team (read: Las Vegas) for now. Which, by the way, would give Seattle more time to get its act together.”

Then, Boston Bruins outspoken owner Jeremy Jacobs threw a little more cold water at the expansion talk with a little complimentary statement about Seattle.

“I’d love to see us in the West to be up in Seattle. Seattle’s a natural, and I would love to see one in Houston, but we can’t get into that building.”

The big question around Quebec appears to be if the market can handle the weak Canadian Dollar. It wasn’t too long ago that the NHL was offering up financial relief to all Canadian teams outside of the Montreal and Toronto. To be clear, I would still prefer to be in Quebec or Las Vegas shoes so don’t get your hopes up here.

We will need to wait and see on how these things shake out. I am convinced that the longer this thing drags out, the better Seattle’s chances. In the meantime, let’s rally this hockey community and try to enjoy the WHL and NHL seasons for a while before we start speculating on what is going on behind the scenes.

The Vancouver rivalry

Over the years we have heard multiple NHL brass reference the natural rivalry a team in Seattle would have with Vancouver. I take a stab at quantifying the rivalry below by looking at the attendance for the Sounders and Mariners attendance when the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto Blue Jays are visiting Seattle.

Vancouver Whitecaps


It should be noted that the Sounders have opened up more capacity when the Whitecaps have come to town. They only do this a couple games a year when they know they can sell that additional capacity.

Toronto Blue Jays

Anyone that has been to a Toronto Blue Jays game against the Mariners knows the impact of Jays fans when they invade Safeco every year. This year, the Blue Jays-Mariners fell on a weekend and the series was the highest average attendance of a series since 2011. Below is the average attendance of each Mariner series since 2012.

Mariners attendance by series

As you can see, the most recent Toronto series had the highest attendance out of 95 unique series since 2012. The Blue Jays comparison is not perfect, it’s baseball, Canada has one MLB team, and it is one series a year.

One thing that is not known is how many people travel across the border vs. Canadians living in the area. I end up going with a few of my Canadian friends every year to experience the visiting fan impact on the game and I also have talked to several folks that travel down every year for the series. Again, this is not scientific but it does provide a leading indicator on what demand would look like when some of the more popular Canadian teams visit Seattle.

The Pitch

As the first stage of the NHL Expansion process nears, I thought it would be a good opportunity to review Seattle’s case for an expansion franchise.


Seattle is estimated to be the 15th highest populated US Metropolitan Statistical Area and the third biggest city without an NHL team.


Seattle also continues to grow faster than any other large city in the US. On a side note, Seattle is also the largest city without either an NBA or NHL franchise.

TV Market

According to Neilsen TV rating system, Seattle is in the top 15 largest US TV market with 1,802,920 homes. That is impressive and when you consider the Dallas Stars Regional Sports Network, Fox Sports Southwest, services the Houston Area. Seattle is the second largest US market that does not have a local NHL team served on a local Regional Sports Network. Also worth considering is that a NHL team in Seattle would likely serve the Portland, Oregon market, giving them a combined TV household market of 2.9Million TV Household which would put that served market in the top 5 biggest TV reach in the US. (Of course if Portland were to get a team, it would compete with the local team.)

NHLDemoincomeandTVmarketHousehold income

The green bar chart above shows Seattle has the second highest US city average income without an NHL team (behind Hartford). In order to really analyze household income you need to see how many households exist inside the customer demographic.

Early last year, Nielsen published the Year in Sports Media Report: 2013. In it, there was a little profile on the NHL Fan Demographic.


53% of NHL Fans have a household income of over $75K a year. That number is the largest % in that bracket of all big 5 leagues. When business owners or potential business owners are looking to expand, they will look at these key figures to determine the potential of the market. According to the Census data, King and the surround counties, 45% of households have income over $75K a year. I then pulled data for a couple other metropolitan areas to see how we stack up. (Update: This chart has been updated from its original post. There was a miscalculation in the census data displayed that was overstating the # of households “Over $75K” for all cities. Thanks to the community over at hockeysfuture, particularly AdmiralsFan24 for raising the issue that led me to go audit my numbers.)

income update

I am not saying we should relocate the Coyotes, Blues or Avalanche. Nor am I saying Las Vegas will not work. I am just illustrating the potential customer market by similar sized markets and Las Vegas.

Hockey community already exists

Similar to the soccer community before the Sounders (MLS version) moved in, hockey has a passionate presence here. There are 2 WHL teams that play in the Seattle area. One team is 30 miles to the north in Everett, the Everett Silvertips and the Seattle Thunderbirds play in Kent which is 30 miles to the south. Both have passionate fan bases in their respective communities.

Puget Sound Population

Additionally, Seattle also has one of the largest Adult hockey leagues in the United States. Youth hockey is also strong in the area and anyone who has tried to find ice time in one of the local rinks knows we clearly need more ice time. The following graphic is the number of USA Hockey Player memberships for the state of Washington since 1998-99 season. If an NHL team were to move into the Seattle area, I would anticipate the local hockey player numbers to double within 15 years.


Proximity to Canada

Seattle will be able to sustain as a hockey market on their own but having a Vancouver just 2 hours away will drive up demand. Additionally, a lot of Canadians choose to live in Seattle to work in the US while being close to their home country. This is evident for anyone who has been to a Mariners game when the Toronto Blue Jays are in town. Safeco almost turns into an away game for the Mariners. Consider the chart below, Toronto Blue Jays have 4 of the top 15 most attended midweek games over the summer months since 2010.

Top15 Games

It was revealed that roughly 5% of the Seahawks season ticket holders are from Canada and the Canucks tickets are one of the most expensive tickets in the league, you can imagine there will be several folks making the trip down from Vancouver when the Canucks are in town. This effect can be seen in the first 3 years of the Whitecaps-Sounders rivalry in the MLS.

MLS Attendance

Corporate Presence

The greater Seattle area is home to large brand companies. Microsoft, Amazon.com, Alaska Airlines, Nordstroms, Expedia, Costco, Starbucks, Tableau Software, Slalom Consulting, Safeco, RealNetworks, Zillow.com, Zulily, Clearwire, Eddie Bauer, Nintendo, & R.E.I. just to name a few. Tech is also booming in Seattle that is becoming an alternative to the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area for creating new tech startups.

Loyal Fan Base

Seattle is an extremely loyal sports town which is obvious when looking at Sounders & Seahawks games. Critics are quick to point out the Mariners lagging in Attendance (18th in the MLB) but keep in mind the Mariners have the second longest Playoff drought in Major League Baseball. In spite of 13 seasons without a playoff appearance, the Mariners attendance is up 22% through the end of June.


Not one of these metrics is a silver bullet for the region but the combination of these key attributes is testimony on what makes this market so ripe for the NHL. It would also be nice to see professional hockey return to the home of the first US Stanley Cup victory.


RBL Group confirms NHL Expansion Application intent

Geoff Baker from the Seattle Time has confirmed that the Ray Bartoszek group will be submitting an NHL Expansion Application for the Tukwila site location.

Geoff later followed it up with this article. This was expected news and it is always great to get it confirmed. For now, Bartoszek is the only group of the rumored 3 interested parties that has confirmed their application submission.


I did a larger write up on how the Tukwila site stacks up back in April. I captured several core pieces of information there so go check it out. Taken from that previous post, I copied some of the distances for the Tukwila site and how it compares to other arenas in the league.

Tukwila Site

  • 11 Miles from downtown Seattle.
  • 14 Miles from downtown Bellevue.
  • 23 Miles from downtown Tacoma.

Canadian Tire Center, home of the Ottawa Senators:

  • 16.6 Miles from downtown Ottawa

St. Paul MN, home of the Minnesota Wild:

  • 12.4 Miles from Minneapolis

The Palace at Auburn Hills, home of the Detroit Pistons:

  • 33 Miles from Detroit

Glendale AZ, home of the Arizona Coyotes:

  • 10 Miles from Phoenix
  • 21 Miles from Scottsdale
  • 27 Miles from Mesa

Sunrise FL, home of the Florida Panthers

  • Sunrise, FL is 31.2 Miles from Miami

NHL Officially Opens the Door for Expansion

Well in case you were off the grid for the last 5 days, it might be news to you that Gary Bettman announced that the NHL will be officially accepting expansion Applications from July 6th to August 10th. This comes as no surprise to those of us that have been following the story for the last 7 months as all leading indicators were forecasting some kind of an announcement during the Board of Governors meeting in late June. As the Puck Daddy article mentions, expansion fees are expected to be in the $500M range and the soonest the teams would be added to the league would be for the 2017-18 season.

Las Vegas, Seattle and Quebec City appear on the top of most people’s list of candidates but there are a few others out there that may throw their hat in the ring. Here is my assessment of the possible expansion cities.


Seattle is one of the top 3 candidates for expansion and there is no doubt the league would like to be in Seattle.screen-shot-2015-06-03-at-91053-am We anticipate up to two potential NHL expansion applications, one from Victor Coleman (SoDo Arena) and one from Ray Bartoszek (Tukwila). Last we heard, Victor Coleman and Sodo land owner and would be NBA franchise owner, Chris Hansen, have not come to terms on a go forward plan but deadlines like the NHL application process might help bridge the gap sooner than later. Meanwhile, the Bartoszek group is moving forward on the Tukwila plan but it is still going through the early approval stages. Both groups have their own set of arena challenges that may require some kind of conditional approval from the NHL, similar to the approach done for the Columbus Blue Jackets when they were awarded a franchise.

Quebec City

Potential franchise owner, Quebecor, has confirmed that they will be formally applying for an NHL Franchise in Quebec. Their 500px-Quebec_Nordiques_Logo_svgarena is furthest along of all cities, they have a great NHL fan base, and should be a strong candidate for expansion. Bettman acknowledge that the division balance of teams is not a requirement of the league but it still might not be preferred.

“One of the factors that you would obviously consider in any expansion process is what your footprint looks like and what the alignment would be. I don’t think you expand just for notions of symmetry.

It’s too important, the business decision. But obviously as we go through the process, if there’s an interest in moving forward, that’s an issue you have to deal with.” – Gary Bettman

A lagging Canadian Dollar might be another reason to give the NHL pause and the league might want to keep Quebec open for a possible relocation scenario should one of the eastern teams falter. Either way, Quebec remains a strong candidate and if Seattle trips up, I think QC will get a team.

Las Vegas

Bill Foley’s ticket drive in Las Vegas has been well publicized and acknowledge as a success by the NHL. With an arena set to open before the would be 2017-18 season, their odds of getting a team is pretty strong.

Greater Toronto Area

It appears that Graeme Roustan will be putting in an application for the GTA area. The Roustan plan might not have much of a chance but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else from the GTA might put an application together. With no arena plan even on the table, anything in GTA seems like a long shot but the market could certainly support another team.

Best of the rest

Portland has been flying under the radar and will probably continue to do so but I would never rule them out with Paul Allen in the possible mix. It isn’t widely known but Allen was dancing with the idea of purchasing the Coyotes back in 2013. If Allen wants a team, I am pretty sure he could get one.

Kansas City is often cited as a city with an arena but no anchor tenant that would be a decent fit for the NHL. Yet no owner has emerged over the last couple years and no one has come out to say they will be applying for NHL expansion. Someone sent this article over to me that points out that they are developing a hockey culture in Kansas City. Great to see the development.

Houston although a gigantic market, interest in the NHL remains quiet. With the Aeros leaving last year, it appears this is not the time.

Glendale goes nuclear on Arizona Coyotes

Sorry for the glamorous headline but there is no other way to explain it. Yesterday, the Glendale City Council scheduled a special meeting for today that could potentially cancel their two year old lease and operating agreement claiming that the Coyotes are in breach of their agreement. It appears the city council is citing Arizona State law 38.511:

The state, its political subdivisions or any department or agency of either may, within three years after its execution, cancel any contract, without penalty or further obligation, made by the state, its political subdivisions, or any of the departments or agencies of either if any person significantly involved in initiating, negotiating, securing, drafting or creating the contract on behalf of the state, its political subdivisions or any of the departments or agencies of either is, at any time while the contract or any extension of the contract is in effect, an employee or agent of any other party to the contract in any capacity or a consultant to any other party of the contract with respect to the subject matter of the contract.craigtindall

City attorney Craig Tindall took a job with the Coyotes just a few months after he was let go by the City of Glendale. This is not the first time this has come up but details of his involvement in the original deal with IceArizona seems to be debatable.

Although there have been several rumblings for a couple weeks, most people chalked the chatter up to nothing more than political grand standing by Council Member Ian Hugh and it has been no secret that Mayor Weiers has been against this deal from the very beginning. The likely scenario is that Glendale would like to renegotiate their agreement with IceArizona but this certainly seems like a hostile approach. This seems to have caught the Coyotes ownership group off guard, having given this interview just 24 hours earlier as if everything is normal. The Coyotes then issued a press release shortly after the special meeting was announced that did not strike a particular collaborative tone.

“This is a blatant attempt to renege on a valid contract that was negotiated fairly and in good faith and in compliance with all laws and procedures. In the event the City Council initiates any action to revoke, repeal or otherwise rescind the agreement, the Coyotes will immediately take all actions available to them under the law against the City of Glendale.” – Nick Wood, of the Law Firm Snell & Wilmer, outside counsel for the Arizona Coyotes

What happens next is anyone’s guess. Regardless if the city rescinds the agreement, it would appear there is troubled relationship in Glendale. That will but more attention and focus on the 5 year out clause coming up after the 200px-Phoenix_Coyotes.svg2018 season. If they do vote to cancel the agreement then a lot of things could happen. The most likely scenario is that the City and Ownership group negotiate a new agreement that keeps the team in Glendale. Of course another possibility is that the league could relocate the Coyotes to Quebec, Las Vegas, Portland or Seattle. Quebec and Las Vegas seems to be the more likely destinations as their arenas are in place.

The truth about Florida Hockey

This Stanley Cup Playoff has brought a lot of attention to Florida hockey. A packed barn with rabid fans and great TV ratings. Success has not been limited to the playoffs either. An NHL team in Florida was top 10 in NHL attendance this year and averaged 98% capacity. The bummer for the Florida Panthers is that it is happening less than 300 miles to the north of Miami, in Tampa. How can a city with less than half the population of Miami be so much more successful than the Panthers? If you listen to the critics online, hockey cannot work in Florida…yet here we are, one time thriving while the other struggles.

Success on the ice

As with most teams and sports, the single biggest thing that impacts attendance is winning and more specifically, reaching the playoffs. Often the attendance lift happens the year after making the playoffs while people set on locking in playoff tickets by becoming season ticket holders the following year. So let’s take a look at the success rates of NHL Franchises.


Some of you that grew up with hockey might not know this, but Playoff hockey is the gateway drug to hockey. Tampa Bay has seen average success in getting into the playoffs where Florida has struggled. You can see the impacts of their success on their attendance records of both teams below.


As I’ve called out many times before, this year’s substantial drop in Florida was expected as new ownership went through a strategy shift of no longer offering deeply discounted tickets.


I know I know…why should winning impact attendance, I mean “real fans” go to see their team play regardless right? Well not so fast my friend. With rare exception, (see Edmonton & Toronto) most teams struggle to draw attendance during a stretch of poor performance.

attendance compare

USA Hockey Growth in Florida

I have never thought that you need to play hockey to be a hockey fan but hockey participation can be an indicator on how it is doing. Unfortunately USA Hockey only provides detail at the state level but it is clear that Hockey is taking roots in Florida.


There are 25 USA Hockey territories with over 5000 USA Hockey memberships and of these, Florida has seen the 5th highest growth over the last 10 years.

Since I started this project people assume I want to see the Coyotes or Florida move to Seattle. I have several “discussions” with friends on the topic as well. Do I think those franchises should relocate? The answer is a resounding, No. I don’t know if the Panthers will stay in Florida but I do know that they need to win to stay and I believe the new ownership group is taking the necessary steps to make it work.

A lot of Seattle Sports fans had their hearts ripped out when the Sonics left so the last thing I am rooting for is to do that to another community.