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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Can Seattle Support Any More Sports Teams?

Illustration for article titled Can Seattle Support Any More Sports Teams?

It's more or less assumed that if Chris Hansen and Seattle can build a new arena, the reincarnated Sonics would return. It's probably just a matter of time before the NHL tries its hand in the American Cascadia. Seattle is a wonderful sports town and is unrepresented in two of the four major sports, but might there be a demographic reason? Three separate experts have pointed to data that indicates the Seattle area might not physically be capable of supporting two more franchises.


Economist and UW professor Dick Conway says Seattle already ranks eighth in the country in "sports saturation"—a crude measure of the regional potential sports fans, divided by how many seats there are to fill. Right now, to sell out all Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders and Storm games, each local has to attend 1.7 games a year—and they don't, since Mariners and Storm games don't come close to selling out. But add basketball and hockey to the mix, and Seattle would be the third-most saturated city in the nation, behind only Cleveland and Denver.

"You don't come up with Seattle being the best place to put teams," Conway said. "That ends up being arithmetically impossible."

Conway delivered his analysis as an expert for the King County Council's arena review board, and he wasn't the only one. UW geography professor Bill Beyers theorized that adding NBA and NHL teams would drain attendance from the extant teams, which squares with what a real estate expert calculated back in April.

There are problems with these analyses, of course. For one, the inclusion of MLS and WNBA teams in the crunching. Sounders fans are rabid, but they've only got three-plus seasons of track record. Also, they may not strictly overlap with NBA and NHL fanbases. The WNBA's Storm actually draw pretty well, and they have defenders on the City Council for when arena plans come to a head, but no tears will be shed if the new Sonics thrive at the expense of the Storm.

But the main reason Seattle fans shouldn't worry too much about supporting news franchises is that revenues aren't primarily dependent on attendance. That honor would go to regional TV contracts, and Seattle—like their saturated brethren in Denver, and quite unlike Cleveland—is at the heart of a geographically underserved market. The entire Pacific Northwest, between the borders of Blazer Country and Canuckistan, will be solid fans of the new franchises. Even if the games don't sell out, the money should still be there.

Arena expert: Seattle already has 'sports saturation' [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]