At 10 a.m. Thursday, the question appeared legitimate: Are there enough hockey fans in the Seattle area to support an NHL expansion franchise?
By 10:12, the question seemed as laughably quaint as those about whether Americans still would go to movies if the characters talked, or buy television sets to watch renditions of popular radio dramas, or learn to communicate via something called the Internet.
It took Las Vegas two days to secure 5,000 season-ticket deposits for its proposed NHL expansion franchise. When the ticket-drive reached the magic number of 10,000, six weeks later, interest in the new team was determined to be sufficient.
Seattle needed all of 12 minutes to hit 5,000. Within an hour, 25,000 deposits were submitted. A gauge was set up to measure the enthusiasm for a winter major-sports team in a market that lost its only winter major-sports team 10 years ago, and Beatlemania broke out.
Upon learning that Seattle had made history quicker than it takes me to mow my backyard lawn, I was reminded of another milestone occasion: The Mariners 1995 game to break their AL West tie with the Angels.
The contest was arranged on Sunday, Oct. 1, after the conclusion of the regular season. It would be held the following afternoon in Seattle. I presumed a fairly good crowd would show up, but a workday matinee, put together at the last minute, was not destined to draw more than 35,000.
Precisely 52,356 fans jammed the Kingdome to roar and gloat and produce a positive referendum on Major League Baseball’s uncertain future in the Pacific Northwest. The people spoke. There would be bumps and controversy along the way, but the Mariners were in Seattle to stay.
And now pro hockey will be in Seattle, home to some version of pro hockey as long as pro hockey has been around. But there’s a difference between a minor-league team facing off against the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Red Deer Rebels and Medicine Hat Tigers than an NHL team taking on the Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks.
On Thursday morning at 10, Seattle was asked if it wanted representation in the world’s most advanced hockey league. Simple premise: Are you in on this?
Twelve minutes later, the issue was settled.
As somebody who grew up with hockey – my first love, before I discovered the many-layered nuances of baseball and the spectator thrills that awaited on football fields and basketball courts – I was hoping enough fans would agree to put down a deposit of $500 per ticket or $1,000 for club tickets and endorse Seattle’s viability as a hockey town.
My fingers were crossed in the spirit of cautious optimism. I saw Las Vegas as a model season-ticket campaign: Get to 5,000 in a couple of days, reach 10,000 in a few weeks. If those numbers were achieved, the Oak View Group and the NHL would have assurance of a liftoff in Seattle.
A liftoff? That wasn’t just a liftoff on Thursday. That was the full-tilt Cape Canaveral adventure, when our teachers brought TV sets into the classroom and we heard a spellbinding recitation of familiar words: “Ten, nine, eight …”
It’s fair to wonder if the astonishing verdict on the NHL’s expanding to Seattle was a statement of backlash at the NBA, the basketball league whose former commissioner, David Stern, turned an arena saga into a cold war. Stern almost always got his way, and when he didn’t get his way after appealing to Washington legislators, he took it personally.
Since Stern supervised the process that enabled the Sonics to bolt after 41 seasons, Seattle remains America’s largest metropolitan market without a major pro winter-sports team.
Memo to NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who has maintained the league’s indifference toward a Sonics revival: Congratulations for convincing the world that Oklahoma City and Memphis and Sacramento are pro-basketball hotbeds. But the idea is to fortify the operation in appealing markets, and on that count, with Seattle, you’re in second place.
The Oak View Group, guaranteeing a privately financed $660 million KeyArena refurbishment, launched a season-ticket drive to test the NHL’s future in Seattle. The test concluded in 12 minutes.
Hockey is looming as a reality, as soon as 2020 – expect an official announcement in June – and while the NBA yawns before taking its customary drool-spooling nap, the NHL has raced to Seattle’s forefront.
Questions still abound, such as: What to name the team? The Seattle Metropolitans, paying homage to the first U.S. team to win the Stanley Cup, in 1917? How about the Seattle Sockeyes, or maybe the Northwest Navigators?
This is gonna be a blast. There’s no love like a first love.
John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath