Sonics and the Sounders – Friendly Competition but Nothing to Fear

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Published on January 23, 2013 with 3 Comments

The Sounders and Mariners may have to put up with some noisy neighbors

The Sounders and Mariners may have to put up with some noisy neighbors

Prost Amerika’s ‘Other Sports’ Correspondent Michael Ligot looks at the effect on Sounders FC of the possible return of professional basketball and hockey to Seattle.

New Arena Neighbors? Bring Out The Welcome Wagon!

Sounders shouldn’t have any trouble coexisting with Sonics, NHL team

By Michael Ligot 

Access any Seattle sports media outlet, and one story dominates.

Professional basketball is on the verge of returning to town. A group led by hedge fund investor Chris Hansen signed an agreement to purchase the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, with the intent to move the team to Seattle. They would play in a proposed SoDo arena, two blocks south of the Mariners’ Safeco Field and three south of the Sounders’ CenturyLink Field. A Kings relocation would fill the gap created when the Supersonics, 1978-79 NBA monarchs, controversially were yanked to Oklahoma City in 2008.

This basketball story also could produce a sports daily double:  hockey.

Unlike squished Key Arena, the new building would be large enough to accommodate an NHL-sized rink. Seattle boasts a strong hockey lineage; the 1916-17 Metropolitans were the first U.S.-based Stanley Cup champions after all. With some NHL franchises in flux, Seattle’s demographics attractive, and the Vancouver Canucks desperate for a rival within driving distance, the new arena means NHL pucks could dent twine in the Emerald City sooner instead of later.

What is the upshot of this?

Seattle could soon be one of only nine metropolitan areas to have teams in the five biggest pro leagues — NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS. (The others are New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago, Dallas, Denver and the San Francisco Bay Area; remember, Los Angeles lacks the NFL.) It’s pretty impressive sporting company for the Emerald City.

That would also leave metro Seattle as the second-smallest locale in this group, 3.4 million, ahead of only Denver. (http://www.citypopulation.de/php/usa-metro.php and sort by 2010 census population).

Sounder fans might worry that the two new teams would slice into the Rave Green’s following and dilute a comparatively undersized sports base, especially when you acknowledge the University of Washington’s myriad teams in the city limits.

They should relax.

Simultaneous game dates amongst the three and over-saturation pose minimal issues, and the bedazzling passion of footy folk, hoops junkies and “puckheads” diminish any likelihood of fan cannibalization.

Let’s see how this coexistence would work for the Sounders, the returning Sonics and a potential NHL team (for convenience, we’ll name them the “Totems”, after the popular minor league team of 50-60 years ago). To spare headaches, we’ll analyze just the regular seasons; ignore playoffs, cup ties and the like.

Scheduling Overlap

The NBA and NHL regular seasons run from October to about mid-April. Intertwine that with MLS’ March-October regular season, and the Sounders would find overlap with the arena teams in three of eight months:  March, April and October. That’s a bit of a logjam, yes, but nothing so immense that it would cause trouble for fans, teams and the Seattle police, who wish to limit the number of days with multiple games in the SoDo stadiums.

As basketball and hockey play 82-game seasons, most contests commence on weekdays. With MLS matches reserved almost exclusively for weekends, the Sonics and Totems could concentrate on weekday games in October, March and April to fill their monthly quota, and leave the weekends to the Sounders.

That would let them load up on peak weeknights in the winter months (particularly Saturday, the traditional hockey night).

What if the Sounders and the arena need to share a weekend date?

The Sounders could play in the afternoon, and the Sonics/Totems at night. Soccer’s neat two-hour window makes gameday logistics for the afternoon easy to plan for, compared to the two-and-a-half hours and potential for longer with overtimes, timeouts and matching majors for hoops and shinny. The usual 7-7:30 NBA/NHL start times give enough space for the soccer traffic to clear out before the arena crowd arrives. Plus, the colder weather at night makes more sense for the arena than open-air CenturyLink.

Capacity shouldn’t adversely affect shared game-day congestion between the Sounders and the arena. The smaller playing surfaces of basketball (94 feet by 50 feet) and hockey (200 feet by 85 feet) require a more intimate atmosphere, so the new arena’s capacity will certainly be less than 20,000.

As the struggling Mariners rarely drew crowds of that size last year on shared game days with the Sounders, and soccer fans didn’t find much inconvenience then, their intermingling with Sonics and Totems traffic would be a snap.

The three-block distance of the arena from CenturyLink also lessens the crossover impact, particularly regarding fan transport. The latest reports from SonicsArena.com, the project’s official site, estimates that 81 percent of arena attendees will arrive by car. Based on a 20,000 arena capacity and the calculated average of 2.69 persons per car, that gives 16,200 driving attendees and 6,023 parking spaces.

With about that many spaces available in garages little more than three crosswalks away (CenturyLink’s, Safeco’s, and the block immediately northwest of the arena site’s), soccer and basketball/hockey fans driving to games shouldn’t compete for many spots.

Many Sounder fans park north of CenturyLink (I’ve noticed the spacious Safeco garage is only half-full for MLS games), and plenty of sports fans are inventive in finding street and small-lot parking, so non-simultaneous scheduling of games should leave placing cars free and clear. See Slide 7 on the Seattle Area Design Document for more details on the parking situation.

That has covered the issues of space in the calendar and space in the streets. But what about the bigger issue of space in the hearts and minds of the Seattle sporting public?

In Part 2, I will look at how the sporting passion might be shared around if the playground becomes a little fuller.





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3 Comments

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  1. As a Timbers fan, I shouldn’t even be proposing this, but one thing to remember is this: playoffs. Should any team(s) make the playoffs, cannibalization is likely to increase. Not just in ticket sales, but also in media coverage and TV broadcast options.

    The Timbers had a bit of it in 2011 when the Blazers were in the first round of the playoffs. While the Timbers matches were still sold out, they couldn’t buy their way into media outlet coverage at the time. Other markets probably wouldn’t be that lucky.

    Being the second-smallest market in that coveted group (despite still being a large market) with so many teams fighting for limited disposable income spent on local sports will still be a concern to all front offices, despite the enthusiasm for all.

  2. Point taken, Andrew; I wanted to concentrate on regular seasons because you can’t always count on teams making playoffs, or in MLS’s case what the playoff format will actually be.

    I’m not as pessimistic on playoff cannibalization. I lean to the “rising tide lifts all boats” theory, remembering how the other Seattle teams got fired up and rallied around the Seahawks’ Super Bowl run. (Like the Mariners having Seahawks throw out a first pitch.) Also, some teams have loyal fans who don’t follow any other teams or sports. I know of some Portland Winter Hawk fans who want nothing to do with the Trail Blazers, or even the Timbers.

  3. As a semi-interesting aside, we would be the ONLY city listed in all of those to have all five franchises play within the city limits.

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