It’s way too early to tell when — or even if — Seattle will become the recipient of relocated National Basketball Association (Sacramento?) and National Hockey League franchises (Phoenix?). But if it happens, the Emerald City would have eight professional spectator sports franchises, if you count University of Washington football and basketball, which we do.
Seattle Seahawks. Seattle Mariners. Seattle Sounders FC. Seattle Sonics II (new NBA team). Seattle Totems II (new NHL team). UW football. UW basketball. Seattle Storm.
Could Seattle support such a bounty? Or would the glut be too much? Is Seattle, as Sportpress Northwest columnist Art Thiel pointed out in a post this week (Thiel: Kings’ Solution Is Vancouver, Then Seattle), really on the NBA/NHL’s immediate radar?
Twelve U.S. cities have teams in the four major pro sports — NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL. All but two — Minneapolis (3,318,486) and Denver (2,599,504) — have metro populations far greater than the Emerald City, home to 3,500,025 (2010 census), and a total that could be reduced to 3,500,024 if Chone Figgins continues to hit .241 from the leadoff hole.
While Denver seems in no danger of losing any of its franchises, Minneapolis, unable to get a stadium deal done, is ripe to lose the NFL’s Vikings.
Four cities with populations roughly equivalent to Seattle’s — Atlanta, Cleveland, Kansas City and St. Louis — couldn’t support four pro franchises. One of them could only support two.
- Atlanta, the No. 9 U.S. market with a population of 5,359,206 (nearly twice the size of Seattle), featured teams from all four sports from 1972 to 1980 and again from 1999 to 2011. But Atlanta, which lost the NHL Flames (moved to Calgary) and later lost the NHL Thrashers (relocated to Winnipeg), couldn’t do hockey.
- Cleveland briefly held four-sport status with the MLB Indians, NFL Browns, NBA Cavaliers, and NHL Barons, who had previous played as the Oakland Seals. But Cleveland, like Atlanta, couldn’t do hockey, losing the Barons when they merged with the Minnesota North Stars (currently the Dallas Stars) in 1978.
- Kansas City had all four sports: MLB Royals, NFL Chiefs, NBA Kings, and NHL Scouts from 1974 to 1976. But Kansas City couldn’t do basketball or hockey, losing the Kings to Sacramento and the Scouts to Denver, which eventually lost the franchise to New Jersey. KC is now a two-sport town, although it does have the MLS (Sporting Kansas City).
- St. Louis briefly had all four sports with the MLB Cardinals, NFL Cardinals, NBA Hawks and NHL Blues. St. Louis lost the NFL Cardinals to Arizona, but picked up the Rams from Los Angeles. Basketball became St. Louis’ bane, the Hawks leaving there in 1968 for Atlanta (St. Louis couldn’t even do ABA basketball with the Spirits of St. Louis).
The Seahawks currently have a healthy season-ticket base, as do the MLS Sounders. But the fortunes of both, as local history tells us, would turn for the worse with losing teams, and might turn for the worse even with winning teams if confronted by NBA/NHL competition.
UW football will move into a remodeled Husky Stadium in 2013, which should buttress its (more expensive) support, but the presence of NBA and NHL franchises in Seattle would do UW basketball no favors, particularly in the absence of an NCAA Tournament team.
As with most U.S. sports cities, Seattle is a front runner, supporting winners and largely ignoring losers such as the Mariners, whose annual attendance has plunged from a high of 3.5 million in 2002 to an historic low of 1.9 million in 2011 due to relentless losing.
In a just-completed three-game series with the Cleveland Indians, the combined attendance for the home games — 36,742 — is 10,000 less than Safeco Field capacity. No wonder the Mariners, who have been in a re-build for 90 percent of their existence, balk at a $490 million basketball/hockey facility going up in their neighborhood.
Four-sport town Denver, which also has the MLS Rapids and Pac-12 football and basketball programs (Colorado) 25 minutes away in Boulder, presents a case which says it’s possible for a town of Seattle’s size to float all athletic boats.
Much larger Atlanta, which has no MLS franchise, argues that it is not.
How say you to these two queries?