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

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

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.

John Barr