BY Art Thiel 11:10PM 03/05/2014

Hockey boss mentions Seattle in expansion talk

On a trip to Minneapolis Wednesday to scout for a future outdoor game, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman threw in the direction of Seattle another tease about expansion.

“There’s a lot of interest,” he told the Star-Tribune. “We’re hearing from multiple groups in Seattle . . .  in Vegas, in Kansas City, in Quebec City. We haven’t decided to engage in a formal expansion process, but as we always do, we listen to expressions of interest.

“There may be good reasons to expand, there may be not. It’s not something we’ve seriously considered yet.”

The NHL last expanded in 2000 when Minnesota and Columbus entered the league. The league has 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 in the West, making two adds in the West logical.

Retiring Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, a partner with Chris Hansen in the SoDo arena project, has been mentioned as a possible bidder for an expansion team, as has Chicago minor-league hockey owner Don Levin and New York investment banker Ray Bartoszek, who last summer attempted to buy the Phoenix Coyotes with intent of moving the team to Seattle.

Bettman toured the Twins’ Target Field and the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank  Stadium and said both were “very, very attractive” sites for the NHL’s hugely popular outdoor stadium games.

“Despite all of the debate about what the right number is, you can’t really overdo these,” said Bettman, The six stadium games, including the Heritage Classic in Vancouver Sunday, drew 375,000 fans.

He also painted a rosy picture of the NHL’s economic health.

“Look at the last year — we now have long-term labor peace, we have two very significant long-term major media contracts for national rights in Canada and the U.S., we sold three franchises over the summer. We’re probably the most stable and in the best position we’ve ever been in.”

He said the league is playing at 95 percent capacity in the regular season and more than 100 percent in the playoffs.

“Revenues have never been higher, TV ratings have never been higher, the game on the ice has never been better followed and received and praised.”

Bettman was non-commital about the NHL’s return to the Olympics in 2018 in South Korea. Several injuries and a disrupted season have owners skeptical.

“It’s not all good and it’s not all bad,” he said. “It’s a balancing act and some of that balance gets affected by where the Olympics are. When we were in Vancouver and Salt Lake City, it was easy to tip the scales. When you’re in other places, not so easy.”


YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    I’d be surprised if the NHL didn’t return to the Olympics. It’s an opportunity to get your brand out there internationally. I’d think that interest in the NHL would kick up after the Olympics also.

    The best market for the NHL to expand into is Seattle. It’s new territory, not recycled and a major media market as well. But I want to see them do more than talk about it. I’d believe in them more if they contributed towards the arena project, something no pro league has ever done.

    • RadioGuy

      I’m with you on the Olympics. It’s the best shot the NHL has to globalize their marketing since every team has players from the league on their roster. On the other hand, Bettman has to convince owners who’ve seen their seasons interrupted and players return from Sochi with injuries it’s in their best interest to do it again in four years.

      As for expansion, if I could own a new team, it would be in Quebec City. Seattle’s the better MARKET, but Quebec already has a 15,000-seat arena that can house a team while their new 19,000-seater is being built (ground was broken in September 2012) and there will never be an empty seat for an NHL game in QC. Hockey is a niche sport in most American cities like Seattle but it’s a national religion in Canada.

      • jafabian

        The potential for the Seattle market is huge. What’s happened in MLS can happen again in NHL. The Silvertips and Thunderbirds have a very loyal following. Think what would happen if an NHL team was here. When you think about it, the state shoudl suppot it because that means more Canadian fans coming here contributing towards the state economy.

        • art thiel

          Wait until you see the ticket prices before swearing allegiance to the puck gods.

          • jafabian

            I rarely go to any pro or NCAA Divsion I sporting events. It’s all way out of my middle class budget.

          • j1012

            If a market like Pittsburgh can afford Pens prices then surely Seattle can, and Pittsburgh has 3 major teams.
            Don’t compare Canada prices to US

      • art thiel

        QC is the likely home for a failed southern franchise, like the Panthers, even though they have a lease to 2028.

        • j1012

          then the NHL will need to charge the Panthers owners a large relocation fee, because an expansion fee would bring top $$$

      • Kirkland

        The Nordiques had a loyal fan base, but QC was not a popular location for players because of the high Quebec tax rates and it’s French-language town with an European feel, making the anglophone majority players uncomfortable. (European players didn’t mind playing there, though.) Remember how Eric Lindros refused to play for them and forced a trade? He wan’t alone.

        Though the team’s not in good shape, one reason players tend to view playing for the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning favorably because Florida has no state income tax. If the NHL comes here, Washington’s lack of an income tax will be a plus to attracting players.

    • art thiel

      You’re not paying huge salaries, only to see your players go down in a tourney you’re not paying them to play.

      • Kirkland

        A better solution would be a World Cup held in the offseason, like with soccer’s. (Worldwide, soccer is played from August to May; MLS is the outlier for weather reasons.) You don’t interrupt the season, and more players will be between pro contracts, thus lessening the injury-money worry for owners.

  • Bill

    I think the NHL would be very successfull in Seattle . If the (and this is a BIG if) the franchise is award
    ed to Hanson/Ballmer maybe the outside of the Sodo Arena should be redesigned. It seems kinda funny to have the hockey team playing in an arena with a jet engine design on the roof .. and the future Sonics are nowhere in sight … lol .

    • RadioGuy

      I’d settle for unobstructed sightlines, but you make a good point about the jet design. Besides, the EMP already fills Seattle’s quota for ugly public buildings.

      • art thiel

        We seem to have many carts misplaced around the horse.

        • RadioGuy

          Yeah, it’s not like I’d be able to go to a game no matter what this thing ends up looking like anyway. Major league appetite + minor league budget = deficit spending.

    • art thiel

      Not sure there needs to be a redesign. Getting the OK to build it will be hard enough.

    • Kirkland

      I’ve seen sentiment, particularly on Sonics Rising, for naming a hockey team “Pilots”. That would be building-appropriate with that engine thingy.