Market research data from Nielsen shows that residents new to Seattle are the most likely fans for the newest professional sport expected in the city: a National Hockey League team. And many of them like to talk hockey at a Greenwood bar.
Suddenly, the Red Wings corner of the bar erupts. One man is pounding the bar with his hands and bellowing. Another fan steps over to slap him on the backside.
“Right where we want ’em,” one says, cheering a goal as their team narrows its deficit.
Despite the commotion, no one at Greenwood’s The Angry Beaver raises an eyebrow at the dudes carrying on in the corner. The Beaver’s a hockey bar — such outbursts are routine even on a drizzly Wednesday night.
Soon, Seattle might have a National Hockey League (NHL) franchise of its own. A Los Angeles group is planning a $600 million renovation of KeyArena. That group began a drive for NHL season tickets Thursday, hoping to prove to NHL executives that Seattle is keen on blades and ice.
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If the crowd at the Angry Beaver is any indication, that ownership group is vying to bring everyone’s second-favorite hockey team to Seattle.
As Seattle rapidly grows to ship more coffee, export airplanes and deliver more boxes labeled with Amazon’s smile, it’s been importing an important commodity to the potential NHL owners: hockey fans. But, they come with allegiances.
“Most of the people who work here are transplants. Most of the people who come to drink are transplants,” said Patrick Vaughan, who was simultaneously tending bar and cheering for his Red Wings. “I’ve been in Seattle eight years. I root for all Seattle sports teams, except when Detroit teams are in town. … I think other people will be like that, too.”
Who are Seattle’s hockey fans?
It’s not just Vaughan’s observation: Market research data from Nielsen backs up the theory that Seattle’s newest residents are the most likely fans for our newest professional sport.
When you think of a newcomer to Seattle, the first thing that probably pops into your head is: millennial. And the data show that fully one-third of the Seattle-area adults with an interest in pro hockey are under age 35. That’s a much higher percentage than fans of any of the other major pro sports in Seattle. In fact, the median age for someone interested in the NHL here is nearly a decade younger than someone who follows Major League Baseball.
NHL fans have also lived in their current home the fewest number of years, on average, compared to other pro sports fans. They’re the most likely to be renters, along with fans of women’s pro basketball, at 40 percent.
Furthering the newcomer stereotype, NHL fans are also the most likely to work in tech or other Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) occupations, with nearly one in 10 in those jobs. They’re also fairly affluent, with a median household income of about $70,000 — only fans of Major League Soccer have higher earnings.
Seattle makes for an attractive market, said Jerry Bruckheimer, a Hollywood producer and part of the Oak View Group (OVG), planning to renovate KeyArena and bring hockey here. Bruckheimer stopped by The Angry Beaver and mingled with fans Wednesday.
“They’re very young, very affluent and very smart,” he said of Seattle’s hockey enthusiasts. “I’m surprised how many people walk to work or ride buses.”
Amazon’s enormous footprint could be a boon to hockey, Bruckheimer said.
“Thousands of people are on campus. Hopefully we can turn them into hockey fans if they’re not already … It’s also a recruiting tool for Amazon and Expedia that you have major sports and concerts here.”
In total, nearly 350,000 adults in the Seattle market express a moderate-to-strong interest in the NHL, according to the Nielsen data.
By midafternoon Thursday, OVG said it had already received more than 29,000 deposits for season tickets.
Even so, the Nielsen data says basketball is a bit more popular. Even without a team in immediate sight, more than half-a-million people say they’re interested in the NBA.
But if we’re making this into a popularity contest, football wins, hands-down. Practically everyone in the Seattle market says they’re interested in the NFL — more than 2 million people — not surprising given the Seahawks’ recent success.
Hockey has a reputation as a very white sport, and sure enough, the data show that 82 percent of fans in our market are white, which is higher than any other pro sport here. Women’s basketball has the most diverse fan base.
Seattle-area pro hockey fans also tend to be more conservative politically than fans of other sports, with just 42 percent saying they are Democrats, or lean Democratic. Soccer and women’s basketball fans are the bluest, both at 55 percent.
At the Angry Beaver Wednesday, patrons were mostly men, mostly white and mostly from somewhere else. A handful played recreational adult hockey together north of Seattle. When they weren’t sharing beer, they were borrowing each other’s spare gear to play.
When discussing the prospect of having the NHL here, the men’s eyes lit up like Canadian expats presented with free Tim Hortons.
“There’s no sport that loses more on TV,” said Boston Bruins fan Leif O’Leary, 49, who came to the Northwest in the 1990s and now works at Facebook. In person, “you feel how fast it is and how hard the hits are.”
“That’s how you convert somebody to a hockey fan; you take them to a game,” said Rich Pereira, a 35-year-old Sharks fan who moved here from the Bay Area in 2013. “There’s nothing like the sound: skates on the ice and a puck off the boards.”
Pittsburgh Penguins fan Andy Glass, 27, moved here last year from Pittsburgh to work at Boeing. He chose the Greenwood neighborhood, in part, to be near The Angry Beaver. He plans to buy season tickets if a team is secured, and hopes to catch every Penguins game KeyArena.
Every NHL team’s sweater hangs on the Angry Beaver’s wall, said Tim Pipes, the bar’s Canadian owner. Lately, much of the bar banter has been among groups of people pooling money to share tickets.
“They’re jacked,” Pipes said. “Groups of people are trying to get together, trying to get in on the ground floor.”
Pipes said hockey fans of differing loyalties have been joining to share tickets, so they could always watch their hometown team.
John Jansen, a 48-year-old Microsoft engineer originally from Denver, arranged to pool six seats among 18 people.
“I had to make an Excel spreadsheet to divide it up,” he said. His 14-year-old daughter, a hockey goalie, would be his plus-one, he said.
Financial analyst Brian Erola, 27, said he had blocked out his work calendar to reserve tickets. Living in Duluth, Minnesota, where it’s cold enough that the waves on Lake Superior sometimes freeze, hockey “was everything,” he said.
When he was a boy, Erola said, his parents would drop him off at the local pond or outdoor rink with leather “chopper” mitts and “bundled up in a jacket and whatever type of hat fits underneath a helmet.”
“I’d spend the whole day there,” he said.
Erola, who moved to Seattle with his wife more than four years ago, said he still watches about two-thirds of his beloved Minnesota Wild’s games online.
“Without the NHL … there’s a piece missing,” he said of Seattle. “Having people from so many different areas of the country will help if we do get a team … the locals will probably take a little time to warm up to it.”