Population Density and NHL Arenas: Seattle vs Bellevue

Last week, the US census bureau releases population data that stated Seattle has the biggest population boom of any major US city. Most of us Seattle hockey fans pointed to the data as another indicator of the opportunity for the NHL that lies in our region. We have also heard that most of the potential Seattle NHL ownership groups are only interested in a Seattle arena versus a Bellevue solution. I looked across the league to see where arenas were placed compared to the densest cities in the area. Excluding the New York Islanders who are moving to Brooklyn, only 3 teams play in arenas that are not located in the largest city (population) in the area: Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes and the Minnesota Wild. Everyone that has been following me knows that I am not Anti-Panthers or Anti-Coyotes. I believe in this sport very much and for the most part, think it can thrive anywhere with the right ownership team. That said, I would be negligent if I did not acknowledge that both the Panthers and Coyotes have both had some attendance issues as of late. I will come back to the Wild in a second but first lets dig into the arena location of the Panthers and the Coyotes.

Florida Panthers

Population of South Florida

As you can tell by looking at the map above, Florida plays in the city of Sunrise, which has a population of 90K and is about 30 miles away from the biggest metropolitan city in the area, Miami. You can also tell by looking at the map, Sunrise isn’t exactly surrounded by a bunch of medium size cities which cuts down on their potential customer base, particularly for mid week games. Observe the average attendance by Day of the week for the Florida Panthers. Generally speaking, mid week games are the lowest attended games. (The exception here is Wednesdays for 2013-14 season. The Panthers only had one Wednesday game this year and it was the day before Thanksgiving on November 27th.)


Arizona Coyotes


As most of you know, the Arizona (formally Phoenix) Coyotes play in Glendale, which is only about 10 miles from downtown Phoenix which has a whopping 1.5 Million people living in the area. I would argue that the Coyotes are actually better positioned in Glendale than the Panthers are in Sunrise. After being sold to new ownership group last summer, attendance was up 13% this year compared to 2011-12 (last full NHL Season).

Minnesota Wild


The Minnesota wild play in St. Paul which is about 10 miles away from Minneapolis, the largest city in the area. Throwing the Minnesota Wild in this bucket is a bit of a stretch since the size of the cities are not that significant compared to Glendale or Sunrise but I think the Twin Cities are the closest comparison we have to the Puget Sound. The Twin Cities market is also roughly the same size as Seattle/Bellevue/Tacoma and has all four major professional sports teams*, something we anticipate or anticipated getting here in Seattle. The Wild have never struggled for attendance and is probably a tough to compare hockey crazy Minnesotans to people in Florida and Arizona. It is also worth pointing out that Wild and Timberwolves play in different arenas. (*No disrespect to the Sounders, they are major in Seattle but very few markets have demonstrated even half the support we give it here so I am excluding them from the comparison since they are very unique to Seattle).

Puget Sound

Puget Sound Population

As you can see, Seattle is much bigger than Bellevue. Even if you add the surrounding suburban cities such as Redmond, Sammamish and Kirkland, you still only have 50% of the population of Seattle. Now the one thing that Bellevue has which is similar to St. Paul, several companies including Microsoft are located on the east side which would make going to a midweek game easy for the employees of those companies. I believe Bellevue can work but this might explain the strong preference for exploring a Seattle arena solution.

4 thoughts on “Population Density and NHL Arenas: Seattle vs Bellevue

  1. Again, great stuff John. I think your analysis of Seattle is right on. I do believe Bellevue can be a successful location for a NHL team, but Seattle is preferable. A Seattle location balances the population centers with better accessibility from the southend population centers than does Bellevue. Bellevue residents are accustomed to going to Seattle for sports and cultural events, Seattle residents are not accustomed to going to Bellevue. What the Florida example shows is that the Panthers placed the team in the northern areas based on the economic status of the residents. Bellevue has many of those same attributes but Seattle has just as many. The eastside will likely produce more season ticket holders than Seattle itself. Seattle’s advantage is access for the season ticket holders in the southend and as far north as Shoreline. Edmonds north is many ways easier to get to Bellevue than south of down town, even though it is further away. Having to go up 405 would be a disaster location for south King County and Pierce County residents.

    The Phoenix example is very different. Scottsdale is the equivalent community to Bellevue and the northern communities near Miami. Scottsdale would have also been accessible to the population centers of Tempe, Mesa and Chandler. I agree that the Glendale location may work in the long run as the population is moving in a westward direction, with Surprise, Peoria, Goodyear leading the way. What they lack is the high end economic cluster that is in the Scottsdale/Biltmore/ Arcadia areas of Phoenix.

    The real key in your analysis are the weeknight games. Seattle will draw much better because of the business activity in the city, not the residential communities. Both Glendale and Sunrise suffer severely from this situation. Even though downtown Phoenix and Miami are not the employment centers that Seattle is.

    Good stuff!

    • Didn’t the Coyotes (in 2003) and Panthers (in 1998) move to the suburbs because their centrally-located venues were, in the case of the formerly-named America West Arena, not designed with hockey in mind or, in the case of the demolished Miami Arena, too small and antiquated after only ten years in operation? Obviously, this was just one of many reasons for both teams moving to their current venues.

      On another matter, in the case of Seattle/Bellevue, service between Seattle and Bellevue on Sound Transit Link Light Rail is targeted to start in 2023. Not knowing where a potential Bellevue arena would be located, it would be interesting how people would be able to get to Bellevue from Seattle and points north and south, specifically, the people who choose to take mass transit.

  2. Wow excellent points. I never gave it much thought of where the areas are positioned and the affect it has on the support it draws. I moved from Calgary to Orlando a couple years ago and lived in Tampa briefly. Tampa games are almost always sold out and great hockey. It may not compare with canadian arenas in terms of fan dedication or playoff atmosphere but they are not struggling by any means. I have always wondered how Tampa did so well but the Panthers never really had the same results. I thought it had to do with the management and the team the Lightning put together to win the cup – As I’m sure you know, everyone likes to jump on a bandwagon. But now I would have to agree it does have to do with location. I don’t understand why the Panthers don’t just play at the AmericanAirlines Arena, home of the miami heat. The Heat sell out every game and bring fans in from all over florida! Plus if there is talk about a team to vegas because of the lifestyle, gambling, parties, etc. Miami has a lot of those things. (not as much as vegas but you get the point). I know it is mostly cubans down there but a majority of people want any reason to visit miami. The Tampa Bay Times Forum is in downtown Tampa and the Lightning sell out, The Tampa Bay Bucs are pretty close to downtown and they do very well. But if you look at the Tampa Bay Rays area is in St. Petersburg, fl they hurt for fans for a sport that should be popular in the south. I could ramble on for hours about this. Moral of the story is location location location. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

  3. Great article! I strongly prefer a Seattle location for numerous reasons, most of which you stated in your analysis. I believe the biggest issue would be getting to Bellevue from Seattle and from the south. It would be a nightmare!

    Regarding the Minnesota situation ( I grew up there, played hockey through high school, and still have family there – they are Wild season ticket holders too), St. Paul has a long hockey history – much more so than Minneapolis. Herb Brooks was from the East Side of St. Paul. The High School Hockey Tournament draws 100,000 people to the 4 day weekend event – and sells out every year – and it is at the Wild’s arena in St. Paul. So although Minneapolis is a larger city, St. Paul has more hockey tradition and hockey “clout”.

    Back in the days of the North Stars, they played in a Minneapolis/St. Paul suburb (Bloomington). There were times when attendance was a problem, and I believe a big reason for that was the location of the arena. Whether from Minneapolis, or St. Paul, it was not a convenient location. I believe a Bellevue location would pose similar problems.

    Regarding Phoenix, their situation is somewhat unique. I do not believe comparing Seattle to Phoenix has any real validity, because the metro areas are very different. Having lived there for several years, I can attest that getting anywhere was difficult, because nothing was close. The metropolitan area is very spread out. Phoenix does not have a downtown core like most cities. Downtown is actually divided between “new” downtown, and “old” downtown, and the downtown area pretty much shuts down at the end of the business day. It does not have neighborhoods in and around the downtown area. So no matter where they put their arena, it would never be a convenient location for most people.

    I truly hope the NHL gets here soon, and that it ends up being in Seattle. I am ready to swap my Canucks season tickets for a Seattle team!

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