Hockey's impact to Seattle will grow sport and economy

SEATTLE - For many, the year 2021 can't come soon enough.

“Well, I think it’s exciting, it’s been rumored for so long,” said Russ Farwell, vice president of hockey operations for the Seattle Thunderbirds.

But now that rumor is reality, with the announcement of NHL hockey coming to Seattle.

For the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League, they hope the NHL in town will help the sport grow in the Pacific Northwest.

I think overall, it’ll be real positive and I think once they’re up and running and established, the game should take a step. That’s what we’re all counting on,” said Farwell.

According to Farwell, the Pacific Northwest is ironically one of the last places to embrace hockey. He hopes there are more rinks built so that kids can learn the sport.

“We think the growth in hockey and putting hockey on the front page for a lot of people, will be beneficial for everyone,” he said. “But we need more rinks in the south. There’s one rink just south of the city until you get to Tacoma.”

We asked Farwell if an NHL team in Seattle, take away revenue or lower attendance at Thunderbirds games.

“For two games at the NHL level, you can have season tickets here. And so it’s a little different. There are different price points.  I think the interest in the sport will make up for what we might lose,” he said.

And then there’s the economic impact. According to Sandeep Krishnamurthy, the dean of the business school at the University of Washington-Bothell, the biggest positive impact will be businesses around KeyArena.

“Essentially you have  mass stimulus that is coming into the city. We’ve actually talked about this for a long time, so we`re actually doing it now,” he said.

He also said that an NHL team will provide more exposure for the city.

Which, according to Krishnamurthy will come in tourism, hotels, and merchandise sales dollars.

He also said that an NHL team will provide more exposure for the city.

“You’re going to be come relevant to all other teams in the NHL now. All of a sudden, they have to pay attention to you. You’re going to become a factor,” he said.

The professor however says the planned Northgate practice facility won’t be as big an economic boom.

“It brings a smaller volume of people. So I think you may have some impact if the size is very large. You’ve seen the Seattle Seahawks facility. It’ll likely be smaller than that,” he said.

When it comes to housing impact, some say think small.

“We will see some additional condominiums being sold for fanatics,” said Michael Doyle, real estate broker for Windemere Real Estate.

The real impact will be the quality of life, meaning more restaurants, entertainment, and bars near Northgate and Seattle, he said. With perhaps a few more people moving in, since the team will be more of a regional team, said Doyle.

“Largely it’s from eastern Washington. We’ll probably see some ownership from Canadians,” he said. “I don’t however,  see the 30 additional high salaries (of players) and their fanatic fans as being enough to really make the mark on property values.”

But with more sports, that means exposure for Seattle. For the city’s tourism, that means more money during the typical slower winter months.

“Anything we can do to impact weekends or mid-week games over that time frame, and hockey will have 40-41 games at home. It’s big for the city,” said Tom Norwalk, president and CEO of Visit Seattle.

But hockey won’t be the only thing changing Seattle in the near future. There are plenty of other projects on the horizon too, he said.

“With not only Seattle Center, Key Arena, the waterfront, second convention center, Sea-Tac airport. I mean we’re talking billions of dollars all happening at one time,” said Norwalk.