Rockets Owner Wants to Bring NHL to Houston

When he was announced as the owner of the Houston Rockets earlier this fall, Tilman Fertitta expressed his desire to bring an NHL team to town. The league added its 31st team this season with the Vegas Golden Knights, and relocation or further expansion are future possibilities.

Quebec was the only other city to submit a bid for expansion when Las Vegas did, making it the first in line if a 32nd team is added or a team moves, though Seattle is also in the mix. Still, things seem to be ramping up on the Houston front given Fertitta’s meeting with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman about the viability of a team there.

As Katie Strang of The Athletic pointed out, the Ottawa Senators, Calgary Flames, New York Islanders and Arizona Coyotes could all face issues with building a new arena in their current location. The Coyotes in particular seem ripe to move but that’s nothing new.

Is Houston a Viable NHL Market?

Houston has teams in MLB, the NBA and the NFL, with two college football teams as well. It’s the fourth-largest city in the country (by population, as of Feb. 2017), so it’s clearly a major league sports town but without all of the major sports.

Narrowing in on Texas as an NHL market, the Dallas Stars have had a measure of success on the ice since relocating from Minnesota 25 years ago. But they’ve generally ranked no better than the middle of the pack in attendance each season, ranking of 28th in attendance numbers as recently as the 2013-14 season. Overall, moving a team to Dallas was a win for the NHL.

(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Fertitta’s ownership of the Rockets includes operating the Toyota Center, which holds 17,800 fans for hockey. Filling up the facility for more nights of the year would be nice and Fertitta confirmed as much immediately after taking over as Rockets’ owner.

“I would put an NHL team here tomorrow,” Fertitta told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “This one has got to work. But I’d love to have the other dates in the building.”

Is Talk Cheap?

Gary Bettman
Gary Bettman (Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE)

Bettman, as expected, deflected any notion of relocating a team right now. There is a jump from discussing the possibility of a team in Houston, to it actually happening. But working in Fertitta’s favor is an arena that’s essentially ready to go and that may only need a few tweaks to house NHL games. Quebec also has an arena that should be ready to go but Seattle is still trying to find a way to get an arena built in an effort to draw the NHL and/or a return of the NBA.

Whether it’s via relocation or expansion, Houston is in the mix for an NHL team at some point down the road. The Minnesota Wild had their AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros from 2001-2013 before moving to Iowa and being re-branded the Iowa Wild. Before that, the Aeros played in the IHL in the 1990s and under the same name in the WHA in the 1970s, so professional hockey would not be new to the market.