NHL Expansion: Analyzing the Top Potential Destinations

Rendering from ArenaLasVegas.com

Rendering from ArenaLasVegas.com

In June, the NHL officially opened a formal expansion process to look into adding more teams to the league. 

This doesn’t mean the league will necessarily expand, but it is the first step in the process. The league will be accepting bids this Summer, with expansion fees set at $500 million, a record number.

Three of the likely candidates for expansion will be Las Vegas, NV, Seattle, WA, and Quebec City, QC. 

However, there will probably only be two franchises added to the league. There are certain criteria to see if these cities can sustain an NHL franchise, including a viable arena, a solid fanbase, a good television market, and ownership group in place. 

Let’s take a look at all three markets and see what makes them good cities for a new NHL franchise:

Las Vegas, NV

It looks like this is the NHL’s top destination for expansion, and it has garnered the most attention over the past few months. Vegas has a lot of their ducks in a row to land a team.

First, they have a brand-new arena going up right on the Strip that would hold the team. The MGM-AEG Arena will hold 17,500 hockey fans when it opens in 2016. But, the big doubts about this market is the possibility of a solid, consistent fanbase. Those doubts were erased when the league gave prospective Vegas franchise owner Bill Foley an opportunity to run a season ticket drive. Foley raised 13,200 season ticket deposits, enough to fill most of the arena. The rest of the tickets will probably be filled by half-season plans, other fans, and perhaps some tourists.

Las Vegas is the 29th most populated city in the U.S., so they would be able to have a television viewing market. 

With Foley completely invested in a franchise, the league looks ready to add a Vegas franchise in this round of expansion.

Seattle, WA

This is perhaps the most intriguing market. While, according to StationIndex.com, the Seattle-Tacoma area is the 14th-biggest television market, 20th most populated city, and according to NHLtoSeattle.com, would have a solid hockey fanbase, they lack a reasonable arena.

Key Arena, former home of the Seattle SuperSonics, is not suitable for NHL play. Chris Hansen, a Seattle businessman, has a project to build an arena in the SoDo area of Seattle (the same area where the NFL’s Seahawks and MLB’s Mariners play). 

His Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Seattle states that the City government will help fund the arena if/when Hansen acquires an NBA franchise. The MOU has provisions for an NHL franchise, but not before the NBA franchise (you can read more at SonicsArena.com). 

The city could modify the MOU, but political red tape is preventing that. So, this project looks to be stalled as of now.

The more promising project is in Tukwila, a suburb of Seattle. According to the Puget Sound Business Journal, the owners of a potential arena in the suburb will submit an expansion application to the NHL when the process opens on July 6th. 

While a downtown arena would probably be better, the Tukwila site sounds promising, and could be enough to get a team, if the prospective owners get their ducks in a row.

Quebec City, QC

The former home of the Nordiques doesn’t have to worry about an arena or ownership group. The Videotron Centre is set to open in September, and is a beautiful, modern arena. Quebecor, a large media conglomerate in Quebec, backed the arena and will likely back an NHL franchise.

The market has shown it can support hockey, as it did for years before the Quebec Nordiques moved to Colorado due to financial pitfalls. However, it is a very small market. The metropolitan area is smaller than Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Overall, if Seattle doesn’t work out, Quebec City could be a solid option for a second team.