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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.