A week ago the Puget Sound region was awash in hockey fever.
Major developments occurred that increased the possibility of the NHL coming to Seattle. Politicians held press conferences dressed in hockey sweaters, crowing about the role they played in greasing the skids for the NHL’s arrival to the city. Local sports media celebrities began Twitter campaigns, seeking aid in learning the nuances of the game. The region was on its way to becoming hockey territory.
But one part of the region is already hockey territory. Everett has been the home of the WHL’s Everett Silvertips for 14-plus years, building a strong and fervent junior hockey fan base that’s witnessed the Tips hang seven banners at what was just renamed Angel of the Winds Arena.
So what does the potential arrival of the NHL mean for this community?
To that end, I talked to Zorn Rajcic, the chief operating officer of CHL International, Inc., the company that owns the Tips, and who also has been a member of the organization’s front office since the team began play in 2003. I also surveyed the public, conducting an online poll and soliciting feedback from readers.
Here’s what people had to say.
The natural assumption is that the arrival of an NHL team in Seattle would hurt the Tips. Historically the Seattle metropolitan area is not a hockey market. Therefore, there’s a finite number of dedicated hockey fans in the region. How many of those established hockey fans would be siphoned away from supporting the Tips into supporting the NHL team?
“I’m sure it will have some impact of some degree,” Rajcic said. “You’re going after the same corporate dollars as everyone else. Ticket holders and whatnot, we might see a swing. People might grab packages there and get smaller packages with us.”
This possibility was supported by the online survey. In the poll, 41 percent of the responders said their primary hockey support would go toward the NHL team, as opposed to just 13 percent saying they would remain loyal to the Tips — it’s important to note that the poll was picked up by outlets outside Snohomish County, meaning some of the voters didn’t have a natural allegiance to Everett. Thirty-three percent said they’d support both the Tips and the NHL team equally.
The sentiment was echoed by some of those who provided feedback, such as former Tips front office employee Aaron Wilson:
“I’ve been waiting for over 30 years for an NHL team in Seattle, so I’ll be going there the most. Obviously with my history with the Silvertips, I’ll still be a supporter of hockey at that level, but I personally prefer NHL hockey whenever possible.”
However, it’s also possible the arrival of an NHL team could help the Tips by raising the sport’s profile in the region. Currently hockey is a niche sport in the area, but the presence of the NHL could lift it into the mainstream.
“I think it will be good for hockey in general,” Rajcic said.
“I think the higher profile will get kids playing hockey,” Rajcic added. “If you look at all the youth hockey associations from Tacoma, Kent, Sno-King, Seattle Junior and Everett Youth Hockey, it will probably bring more people to the table of getting them interested in the game, and hopefully that will trickle down and trickle up for everyone involved.”
There are also logistical differences between supporting the Tips and an NHL team. First there’s geography. Everett draws its fans primarily from Snohomish County, beginning in Mukilteo and heading north. For those fans it’s a lengthy drive to KeyArena, particularly when traffic both on I-5 and Mercer Street are factored in.
Then there’s the price point. Looking at a comparable market in Denver, the single-game ticket costs to attend a Colorado Avalanche game ranges between $25 and $395. For the Tips the single-game costs range from $16 to $44. So there’s a substantial financial difference between regularly attending NHL and WHL games.
Concerns about those issues were a common thread from readers who responded on Twitter, such as this from Nick Paredes:
“I will sign up for (NHL) season tickets. I’ll probably only go to 4-5 games a year at the Key, though. It’s too hard to get in/out of & park for a Northender. I will use StubHub or similar to sell off tickets. Given (San Jose) and (Vancouver) markets, I don’t see that being an issue.
“I should add: I will keep my Silvertips tickets and that would be where I watch the most hockey.”
Keep in mind, last week’s developments don’t make an NHL team in Seattle a sure thing. The KeyArena renovation needs to be completed in a way that’s user-friendly to NHL fans 41 nights a year. An ownership group needs to be found that’s willing to pay the $650 million expansion fee. Enough people need to commit to purchasing season tickets to convince the NHL that a team in Seattle is sustainable.
“It’ll be interesting to see if it all comes together, because it’s a huge nut to crack to get a team and to do everything they need to do in what I believe is going to be a short period of time,” Rajcic said. “There’s a lot of work to be done for them to solidify what they need to do.”
Even if everything goes right, the earliest the NHL would arrive in Seattle is 2020, so there’s plenty of time to plan for the possibility. But in the meantime, if you need a hockey fix, it’s an easy trip to downtown Everett to catch a glimpse of some of the best junior players in the world, players who may eventually find themselves 30 miles south competing at hockey’s highest level.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.