The recent progress towards the NHL expanding to Seattle has hockey fans in the Pacific Northwest excited. Many in Portland can’t help but wonder “Why not us?” knowing that there is already an NHL-ready arena in town. For a myriad of reasons, the NHL has always preferred Seattle to Portland (more per-capita disposable income, proximity to Vancouver, desirable corporate sponsors, etc.). Even so, here’s why Seattle getting an NHL team is still good for hockey in Portland:
1) Seattle will need an AHL team
After the great AHL migration to California in 2015, almost all west coast teams now enjoy the convenience of having their farm team nearby. Only Las Vegas and Vancouver don’t have their AHL affiliate within a short drive or quick flight, and neither are expected to remain that way for long. Seattle will undoubtedly start looking for a location for their farm team, and Portland has a lot to offer in terms of existing infrastructure, potential fanbase, and ease of transportation between the two cities. This topic will be revisited in a blog post devoted solely to why Portland makes the most sense for Seattle’s affiliate, so stay tuned.
2) Paul Allen might start seriously pursuing an NHL team
When the season ticket drive took place on March 1st, reality blew expectations out of the water. 10,000 fans put their money where their fandom is in the first 12 minutes, and they eventually received 25,000 deposits within two hours before capping it at 33,000 the next day. The amount that went to corporations, scalpers or brokers is impossible to determine, but considering how impressed hockey pundits were with Vegas receiving 5,000 deposits in 48 hours, the drive was an undeniable success.
Clearly the demand for pro hockey in the Pacific Northwest is high, but Paul Allen has only occasionally feigned interest in bringing it to Portland, worried it would hurt Trail Blazers’ ticket sales. This shows how incredibly wrong he was about its potential. Will this make him rethink pursuing an NHL team in Portland? He’s been mum so far, but it’s only a matter of time until an interviewer brings it up to him. Hint hint, local media…
3) Hockey fans in Portland can see an NHL game much more easily than before
Due to the lack of pro hockey in Portland, transplants make up a disproportionate amount of the local fans of the sport. Those that moved here with a favorite team from home, or were born into a family with deep roots supporting a team will soon be able to visit nearby Seattle to see their favorite team when they play against Seattle, rather than taking a flight elsewhere or crossing the border to British Columbia.
4) Boon to youth hockey in the region
Fans aren’t the only ones in the local hockey community isolated from the game in Portland. Travel teams for the Junior Winterhawks (i.e. the local youth hockey organization) often have to fly across the country, or drive up to British Columbia for tournaments. An NHL team in Seattle will drastically elevate the level of competition in Seattle, the state of Washington, and the entire region. The greater the competition, the more opportunities there are for player development locally. More teams in Seattle willing to travel to Portland and shorter (and therefore less expensive) commutes to tournaments for local teams is important for youth hockey, which is notorious for prohibitively high costs. More interest in the sport locally also allows for more access to second-hand gear for potential skaters. More skaters also allows for more appropriate classifications of ability levels; players start at different ages and learn the game at difference paces. Some will play year-round from the first time they strap on skates; others will pick it up in their teens as a casual activity in the winter. Keeping the costs down and making the sport accessible to all income levels and commitment levels is best for everyone.
5) Expanded media coverage of hockey
The local media in Portland covers both the Seattle Mariners and the Seattle Seahawks since there are no competing teams from Portland. More hockey coverage will boost the sport’s visibility in the area, and the higher level of play (compared to the Winterhawks) could create fans out of people who gave it a try and weren’t engaged by the pace of the game in the WHL. Recently, a local TV channel in Seattle started showing Canucks games to “familiarize Seattle with their newest rival”, capitalizing on the recent frenzy of hockey news. It’s only a matter of time until KGW, Root Sports and/or NBC Sports Northwest are broadcasting Seattle’s games in Portland.
Hindsight is 20/20, and rather than bemoan what could have been, we need to consider this a step in the right direction. Will Paul Allen or another potential owner decide to capitalize on the potential for pro hockey in Portland? The more vocal we are in our desire, the more likely it becomes. Spread the word, comrades!