Inside the NHL
There was nothing surprising about it being standing room only at the city’s preeminent hockey bar last week as the new NHL season launched.
NHL Seattle got things rolling at The Angry Beaver in Greenwood with a watch party timed with afternoon games. But once the evening games began, the joint was packed with hockey regulars who don’t need a staged event to show up.
Again, hockey fans flocking in droves to a hockey bar for the launch of the first full season since Seattle landed an NHL franchise isn’t that noteworthy. What’s interesting is how many were relative newcomers to this city.
In fact, moving about the crowd, it was difficult to find original Seattle residents. Not that local birthright matters to this Montreal-born, longtime Canadiens fan, but our changing demographics have long been suspected of fueling NHL Seattle’s 32,000 season-ticket deposit list.
Seat selection for deposit holders is to begin within another week or so. And whether you find it good, bad or irrelevant that so many of those depositors might not have spent formative years here, there will be ramifications from the demographics.
First off, my interviews at a lone bar do not constitute a scientific survey. It could be The Angry Beaver’s patrons prove an outlier to the depositor pool — especially as it trended toward a younger crowd that might not be capable of affording NHL season tickets.
Not yet, anyway.
That said, the sheer volume of the 32,000 depositors was the first sign something different was likely happening. Hockey had long been treated as a fringe sport in this city — the Seattle Thunderbirds went to the Memorial Cup a few years ago and the local media barely noticed — before NHL Seattle landed so many depositors so quickly.
Suddenly, the deposits suggested far more hockey fans exist here than previously depicted — that Seattle’s team might not automatically begin at No. 4 or No. 5 popularity-wise in the city’s heart.
Maybe in “old” Seattle’s heart. But it’s questionable whether born-and-bred locals will be paying the hockey freight.
NHL Seattle has never revealed detailed depositor information but has hinted strongly about a large core being from downtown — which is usually code for Amazon and other workers imported from elsewhere. Indeed, a sizable portion of the late Angry Beaver crowd wore San Jose Sharks jerseys — suggesting many were Bay Area transplants. One of those, Kelly Ros, 27, an electrical engineer at Boeing, moved here from San Jose last year.
“Even though they have the Sharks, the bars there tend to be more for basketball,’’ Ros said. “So, finding this place has been pretty cool. I don’t think there’s anything back there that quite compares.’’
His co-worker, Chris Lindgren, 29, from Newport Beach, Calif., was sporting an Anaheim Ducks jersey. Lindgren said he’ll keep his Ducks allegiance even after NHL Seattle begins play, as Ros plans for his Sharks.
“Maybe if the Seattle team is really good and the Ducks get really, really bad something will change,’’ Lindgren said, smiling. “But I don’t know.’’
Which has implications for NHL Seattle. Hockey fans are among the most loyal in sports — especially those of “Original Six’’ teams from Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Montreal, Toronto and the New York Rangers. Getting them to switch allegiances is akin to telling local “12s’’ they should cheer for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
Don’t believe me? Watch NHL games in long-established Canadian markets such as Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary and see the stands fill with Toronto and Montreal fans whenever the Maple Leafs and “Habs’’ visit, mostly based off family loyalties from 50 years ago before those newer franchises existed.
And Edmonton and Calgary have won Stanley Cups, while Vancouver reached three finals. Doesn’t matter. And it won’t matter here for brand-new NHL Seattle, which will contend with competing loyalties regardless of how many restrictions it places on ticket resale.
Not that it’s a bad thing. Money is money in professional sports, and visiting loyalties do fuel a large amount of ticket revenue, regardless of whether home teams admit it.
But that aside, NHL Seattle certainly won’t want to spend 41 home games feeling like the Mariners whenever Blue Jays, Red Sox or Yankees supporters hit town.
So, there will be battles waged for hearts and minds. Maybe not for “Original Six’’ fans — likely already a lost cause — but certainly bandwagon supporters of less-established clubs, or relative newcomers to hockey.
Fans such as recent College Station, Texas, transplant Ben Carter, 23, sporting a Dallas Stars jersey as he stood at The Angry Beaver with roommate Nick Gorman, 24, a Maple Leafs fan originally from Calgary. Carter admitted he’s relatively new to hockey bars — there being none in football-mad College Station — and only recently “jumped on the bandwagon’’ with the Stars before relocating here a few months ago.
On switching allegiances to NHL Seattle, he said he’d be open to it.
East Side resident Yevgeny Ternovsky, 32, a Maple Leafs supporter who moved here a decade ago from Toronto, actually enjoys “so much diversity’’ of fans of different teams watching games at the same bar. But the excitement level doesn’t compare to what he experienced in Toronto, largely because of those split loyalties.
“I still think it will be nicer when you’ve got a (Seattle) team here and everybody will be cheering for the same team.’’
Something NHL Seattle is no doubt working on.