To any prospective owners of the Winterhawks, please read the following before signing on the dotted line. Portland’s hockey community needs the new ownership to commit to building our hockey infrastructure and pursuing new fans of the team and the sport while engaging with existing fans (from casual to hardcore).
For the last four years, the Winterhawks were supposedly going to build two new sheets in Beaverton. For a myriad of reasons, the money never materialized and shovels never hit the ground. Given the former owner’s bankruptcy issues, it now makes a lot more sense. This leaves our metro area of 2.5 million people with only three hockey rinks slated for public use, and none in Portland city limits. Considering only a few hours north of here is Vancouver B.C., arguably a top 5 hockey city in the world, we are grossly under-served in terms of available ice. This is a serious opportunity to grow the game, and in turn, the local fan base. A dual sheet facility (potentially converting a former warehouse) should be considered a necessary expense to factor into the purchase price. To give you an idea, the former owner was expecting to spend over $10 million on the new Beaverton rink.
Beyond the new rinks, the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where the Winterhawks play a majority of their games, needs some work as well. It is historically significant, and with hockey losing its blue collar roots, it feels like a throwback. There is lots of potential to spruce it up while retaining the nostalgic feel. At the very least, you could incorporate an organ and lean into the old time hockey environment.
You will also find yourself pressured to change the name and/or logo. You’re on your own in terms of advice for that; just make sure you don’t use the name without the logo. Rip the band-aid off entirely or leave it be. Either way, people will disagree with your decision.
A major upside to owning a hockey team in Portland is the fact that very few people living here have allegiance to any of the Winterhawks’ opponents. Almost everyone can be converted to a fan with the right marketing, community engagement, and sustained success. The simple gesture of donating sticks and nets to schools for floor hockey in gym class or after-school clubs would be a good start.
Another advantage is that Portland is a desirable place for players. Seth Jones straight up told Everett (who held his rights at the time) that Portland was the only team for whom he was willing to play. They could either trade his rights to the Winterhawks, or watch him play NCAA hockey instead; it wasn’t long before he signed with Portland. They were WHL champions the year he played for them, but haven’t been since; they are in good shape to make a run next year, though, so you would be coming in at the right time.
In summary, please know that there is work to be done, but if you are in it for the long haul and see this as an opportunity to grow the game of hockey (rather than just a vehicle for passive income), I can guarantee you’ll be embraced by Portland and its hockey community. Good luck, and hopefully we’ll see you on the ice sooner rather than later.