Jan 30, 2011; Raleigh, NC, USA; Fans of the Carolina Hurricanes arrive for the 2011 All Star game at RBC Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

Can Hockey Survive In Virginia Beach?

For all the stories we’ve heard about the Phoenix Coyotes moving to Canada or Kansas City or Seattle, nobody would think that another American city would be willing to jump into the race for an NHL franchise.  But the landscape has just recently changed, as yesterday it was revealed that there are plans in place for Virginia Beach to construct an 18,500 seat arena, with the intention of attracting an NBA or NHL team.

As much of a shot in the dark this is, it can’t come as much of a surprise that the Virginia Beach area would eventually begin a pull for a major sports franchise.  Right now, the metropolitan area, which includes cities such as Richmond, Norfolk, Williamsburg, and Hampton Roads, is home to about 3 million people.  And also right now, the urban area is the largest without a major sports franchise or an arena with at least 12,000 seats.

The Sacramento Kings are rumored to be wanting to head over that way, so they should have at least some expectation that the construction of the arena will work.  But the hockey fan in me wants to know: can the area support hockey?

“Who knows” appears to be the only correct answer.  The closest approximation to the Virginia Beach area would be their neighbors to the South, Raliegh, NC.  For that city at least, the move has worked out.  The Carolina Hurricanes comfortably sells tickets, the fans look like they are with the team 100% after they won the Cup, and the All Star Game they threw a couple years ago was very well done.  This move worked just fine for the NHL, which loves to find surprise hotbeds of hockey in non-traditional environments.

But of course, with the success story that is the Hurricanes, so there is also failures in other places.  Phoenix and Atlanta come to mind rather quickly: despite some levels of success in both places, sellouts were few and far between, even in the playoffs.

Gary Bettman knows what a crapshoot it is to guess on the potency of a hockey market.  A better shot would be to move a franchise to Canada, where he knows the gear will sell and the tickets will be eaten up.  Case in point is the resurgence of hockey in Winnipeg, where the Jets now call home.

So should Virginia Beach residents start gearing up for NHL hockey any time soon?  Don’t count on it right now.  The NHL will look at safer bets first before establishing a franchise with an unknown future.

But you should probably get excited for ACC basketball.

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