It was revealed a couple weeks ago that Seattle Hockey Partners and Oak View Group had added seven local investors to bolster their collective ownership team. As we heard from Andy Eide that same week, one of those local owners, Andy Jassy of Amazon Web Services, is a life-long hockey fan that grew up watching the Rangers through good times and bad at Madison Square Garden. The rest of that group, made up of Adrian Hanauer, David Wright, Jay Deutsch, Chris and Ted Ackerley, and Jeff Wright, is not known to have much of a hockey-centric background.
So, we at NHLtoSeattle.com got to thinking that the time is nigh to ensure that these new owners fall in love with the game, as having sports owners that are passionate and want to win makes things just a little more fun for the fans. We’ve all had something happen in our lives—whether it occurred in our formative years (as for people like me, being thrust into the game from the time I could walk) or later on (like the founder of this site, who learned about hockey in his twenties)—that made us begin watching the game with a bit more fervor.
So, we’ve decided that we’re going to send that new local ownership group (and the casual/uninitiated hockey fan that happens to be reading this) on a hypothetical road trip to a few arenas around the NHL, with the expectation that they will all come back diehard hockey fans.
FOR THE ATMOSPHERE
This section needs to be prefaced with the fact that—in the interest of full disclosure—I actually have not visited either of these arenas that I’ve selected (yet). Trust me, they are both at the top of my list, and all reports indicate that they should be firmly planted at the tops of the lists of the local owners as well.
The first stop on our “Fall In Love With Hockey Tour” is at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. In about as non-traditional of a hockey market as you can possibly get, the Predators have managed to build a raucous fanbase over the years by fully embracing the culture of the team’s home city and integrating it into the game-day experience.
From an outsider’s perspective, the thing I love most about Bridgestone Arena and its atmosphere is that the crowd there has taken on an almost college-like approach to supporting the squad. Straight out of the neighboring bars on Broadway, fans come into the arena ready to cheer, heckle, sing, and chant their way through 60 minutes of hockey. It truly is something to behold, even on TV.
It hasn’t always been roses in the Music City, as the franchise did go through some challenges in its earlier years, straining to eliminate the issue of people in the market simply not being drawn to the game itself. Having a successful and exciting team has very much helped the Predators rid themselves of this problem, but going all-in on adopting the city’s country music scene as its own and folding that into every aspect of the fan experience has also paid huge dividends. From the team’s guitar-themed uniforms to having chart-topping country stars sing the national anthem at playoff games, this team has done things right on this front.
One would hope that the Seattle franchise can manage to harness its own music culture when the team arrives here.
The next stop on the tour is the sparkly T-Mobile Arena, home to the newest members of the NHL fraternity in the Vegas Golden Knights. Talk about embracing and integrating the culture of the team’s home city, Vegas has taken Game Operations to a new level with fantastic lighting and projection displays, high-tempo dance music throughout, and even live-action pre-game shows to get the crowd extra amped for the ensuing contest on any given night.
Also located right on the city’s main thoroughfare, fans in Vegas have the opportunity to party it up on The Strip, place bets, and get sufficiently lubricated—thanks to the city’s lax open container laws—right up until the opening face-off, at which point they rush inside to cheer on their new hometown team.
Knowing that hockey could potentially be a tough sell in a desert locale like Las Vegas, the VGK’s were determined to create high entertainment values from the jump, and they nailed it. It also so happened that the team managed a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in its first season, which certainly didn’t hurt the franchise’s ability to take off.
Now, the members of the team have ingrained themselves in the local community, as the Golden Knights have gone out of their way to ensure that the players are accessible to fans through open practices and constant community engagement efforts, and even by being an integral part of the city’s healing process after the unthinkable events of last fall.
The city of Las Vegas now rightfully embraces the team’s players as their 23 favorite sons.
FOR THE HOCKEY EXPERIENCE
If you’ve listened to the first few episodes of our new podcast, Sound of Hockey, you know that I’m a big Minnesota Wild fan. If you haven’t, please subscribe on iTunes and give us a five-star review (so shameless, I know). My point is that this selection for the “Fall In Love With Hockey Tour” was definitely made with some level of bias, so take my arguments here with a grain of salt, if you must.
BUT… The Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul remains a fantastic place to watch a hockey game. Like the Golden Knights, the Wild got the Game Operations thing spot on (it’s very different from Vegas, but works well for the culture there) from the very beginning, when it entered the NHL as an expansion team back in 2000. Eighteen years later, the arena is still sold out almost every night, and it’s packed to the brim with knowledgeable hockey fans that cheer at the right times and keep the focus very much on the game being played.
The folks that designed the Xcel Energy Center put in some clever touches to make the building seem as if it belonged to the people of Minnesota, with warm woods throughout the concourses that still give it a lake-cabin-like feel, jerseys of every high school hockey team in the state prominently displayed throughout, and a lighthouse that illuminates when the Wild score a goal. Plus, there’s this beautiful pre-game tradition, in which a local youth hockey player dresses in a full Wild uniform, skates a “State of Hockey” flag to center ice, and plants it on the face-off dot to indicate the arrival of the home team. It truly is a goosebumps-inducing experience for lovers of the game, and one that will tug at the heartstrings of even a brand new hockey fan.
I know, I know, Rogers Arena (formerly General Motors Place) isn’t quite as raucous as it once was, and I probably could have picked any Canadian arena for this last spot. For example, I could have selected a place like Winnipeg, where the team is actually a contender, and the arena is overflowing with rabid fans nightly, bringing a nice mix of quality hockey and a stirring atmosphere. Or I could have picked Edmonton, home to arguably the best player in the world in Connor McDavid and a beautiful new $600-million facility. But it’s my blog, and I’m picking Vancouver.
The reason I’m picking “The House That Henrik and Daniel Built” as my last stop on this hypothetical tour is that as Seattleites, this is such an easy and downright fantastic jaunt to make, there’s almost no reason to exclude it from any hockey-related itinerary. Vancouver itself is breathtakingly beautiful, practically every restaurant and bar has hockey on TV at all times, and the all-around experience of a visit to the city that’s just three hours north of Seattle feels world-class.
Admittedly, the arena itself is starting to feel a bit dated, and the team that resides inside has definitely seen better days, but if you’ve recently purchased a portion of a future NHL team in Seattle, and you don’t promptly head north for a weekend of hockey watching, you’re missing the boat. I’ve never had a bad time visiting Vancouver, and doing so with the specific reason of watching hockey makes it all the more magical.
So, Seattle and outside hockey world, those are my picks. Where are you sending this team’s new local owners to ensure that they—like you once did—fall in love with this great sport of ours?