Is Everett ready for the Storm?
Perhaps a better question is if the Storm is ready to leave the comfy confines of KeyArena where it enjoyed one of the best home-court advantages in the WNBA.
“It’s going to be different, no doubt about that,” forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. “We’re used to having that amazing environment and having that big crowd behind us every home game.
“Everybody knows KeyArena is an intimidating place to. Certainly our fans are a big reason why this franchise has been as successful as it has. And we all saw that last year.”
The Storm sold out eight of its final nine home games last season en route to the 2018 WNBA championship.
In its last outing at KeyArena, a raucous turnout of 14,212 witnessed Seattle’s 75-73 win over the Washington Mystics in Game 2 of the Finals.
“Crowds like that just give you energy and adrenaline and it keeps the intensity up,” interim coach Gary Kloppenburg said. “During our run last year, the crowds got bigger and bigger and bigger and as a team you just feed off that energy.
“If we can get anything close to that in Everett, even if it’s a smaller crowd, the most important thing is the enthusiasm. We’ll see. This is something new for all us, the team, our fans and the city of Everett.”
Due to KeyArena’s $900 million-plus renovation, the Storm is forced to vacate its Seattle Center home for the next two years with plans to return in 2021.
This year, Seattle will play five regular-season games at the Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett and the remaining 12 at the University of Washington’s Alaska Airlines Arena.
“It will be weird,” veteran guard Sue Bird said. “But the one thing I think you learn in sports is it just takes a second and then you adjust pretty quick.”
The Storm’s exhibition opener 7 p.m. Wednesday against the Phoenix Mercury will be the first professional basketball game at the Angel of the Winds Arena since it opened in 2003.
“This is sort of like a dry run to just see how it is,” Kloppenburg said. “Like anything new, you’ve got questions about the place. I want to see where do you park? Where do you go in? How long does it take to get there? We want to see the locker rooms and the court.”
It remains to be seen if the Storm can continue building the momentum from last season’s run to the WNBA title and buck the leaguewide trend of declining attendance.
Across the WNBA, fan turnout decreased 13 percent from 7,716 in 2017 to 6,769 in 2018, which was the first time the league has ever dipped below an average of 7,000 fans per game.
Seattle, which was one of three teams whose home attendance rose, had the second-highest spike in fans while climbing from 7,704 per game in 2017 to 8,109 last year.
Only Los Angeles (10,642), Minnesota (10,036) and Phoenix (9,950) had higher home attendances last season.
Nine teams saw their attendance decrease, none more so than New York, which dropped from 9,889 fans per game in 2017 to 2,823 in 2018.
The Liberty is a cautionary tale for the Storm.
Last year, New York left Madison Square Garden, an iconic downtown New York arena with a capacity of 9,888, and moved 30 miles north to the Westchester County Center in White Plains, New York.
The new arena, which holds 5,000 for basketball games, has been billed as an intimate venue. But it’s also received ample criticism from coaches and players.
“You talk to your peers and other teams that have been through relocations and number of teams have been through them,” Storm CEO and general manager Alisha Valavanis said. “It’s one team in the WNBA. Everyone shares key learnings and things to consider and think about.”
For instance, the Storm has revamped its gameday routines while playing in Everett.
Players and the coaching staff will drive to north for a morning workout at the Angel of the Winds Arena. Then, the team checks into to a nearby hotel and following the game will spend the night in Everett.
“To my mind, that’s the best way to do it,” second-year guard Jordin Canada said. “You want to get up there, get your workout in and get off your feet. You don’t want to be driving up and down the highway.”
The Storm has also worked to alleviate transportation concerns for fans, including a partnership with Sound Transit to provide gameday discounts on trains.
“I believe the reception in Everett is going to be huge,” Angel of the Winds Arena general manager Corey Margolis said. “There’s a definite buzz in the community about it everywhere I go and with anyone I talk to. I know Sound Transit is making it easy for people to get to games whether or not they’re in Everett, Snohomish County or elsewhere.
“I think the Storm is going to be thrilled to see the response that Everett is going to provide. I’m confident in that.”
According to Valavanis, the Storm has attracted 2,300 season ticket members, which is 700 more than last season.
Additionally, new full-season ticket sales are up three times from point last year. And single-game ticket sales up two times from this point last season.
Perhaps surprisingly, the five-game ticket packages in Everett are outselling five-game packages at UW.
“The city of Everett made it known to us very early on that they wanted us to bring Seattle Storm basketball to Everett. That was working with the Angel of the Winds Arena and it was also working with the mayor’s office. They want us there and I think it’s showing in the response.
— Coach Dan Hughes underwent successful surgery to remove a carcinoid tumor in his digestive tract, the Storm announced. Kloppenburg will coach the Seattle’s two exhibitions on Wednesday and Friday. There’s no timetable on when Hughes will return.