Hockey back in Houston? Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta says it's possible
HOUSTON – Is Houston another step closer to having hockey back in town?
New Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and Rockets CEO Tad Brown discussed the possibility of bringing a National Hockey League team to Houston at the former's introductory press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Houston has a long history of hockey. The Houston Aeros played in the American Hockey League, basically the farm system of the NHL, from 1994 until 2013, when the team moved to Iowa.
Before that, the Aeros played in the Western Hockey Association from 1972-1978. Many of the WHA teams eventually merged into the NHL.
At the news conference, Fertitta and Brown were twice asked about bringing a hockey team to the fourth-largest city in the United States.
"This has come up a few different times. (Former Rockets owner Leslie Alexander and I) looked at many NHL teams over the years and it wasn't a matter of wanting to bring in somebody whether they'd be a tenant or not. It's just the deals didn't work," Brown said. "Leslie was always looking for opportunities to make the city better, the sports scene in the city better and Toyota Center more effective and fill more dates. But the NHL, at the time, the teams that he looked at and we looked at, the numbers didn't work, the CBA didn't work and it just didn't work for the structure we had in place."
Fertitta talked about being aggressive in business opportunities, saying that's how he was able to buy the Rockets.
"I would put an NHL team here tomorrow. But this one has got to work. Would I love to have the other dates in the building? Do I want to see Toyota Center filled up 300 nights a year? Definitely. So we'll do whatever we can do, but whatever we do is going to make sense. Will we be aggressive? Yes. That's my nature," Fertitta said.
Brown said Fertitta was already introduced to Larry Tanenbaum, who owns the Toronto Raptors of the NBA and is chairman of the NBA's Board of Governors, and is also co-owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL.
"(Tanenbaum) and I sit next to each other. He's excited to meet Tilman. I'm sure that Tilman and I will be up in Toronto at some point to meet with Larry and talk about the NHL's position, their interests and things that could possibly happen," Brown said. "Everything is open. We'll be getting him and Larry together soon."
Fertitta mentioned he thought the Aeros drew around 2,000 or 3,000 fans during their final season in 2012-13. But according to www.hockeydb.com, the Aeros drew nearly 7,000 fans in 2012-2013, which was ranked seventh out of 30 AHL teams. The site states the team drew between 5,100 and 7,300 fans during the Aeros last 12 seasons in Houston.
The bottom line for the Billion Dollar Buyer is that the fans in Houston have to show up.
"Unlike basketball, we need to make sure that hockey fans live in Houston, Texas, and Houstonians will come out and support an NHL team. If we have an NHL team, we need to put 16,000 people in that stadium every night. 17,000, 18,000 -- that's what we hold here," Fertitta said. "So if I go out and get an NHL team, I'm going to ask the citizens of Houston to make sure they're going to commit to help me do it. Once again, none of this is successful without the fans out there. And I know that."
Go to the Aerodrome Ice Skating Complex in Northwest Houston and you’ll find the kids of all ages practicing with the Houston Wild Hockey Club.
When Stephanie Adam and her family relocated to Houston from Chicago about a year ago, they made it a priority to live in close proximity to a hockey rink.
“We're a hockey family that's what we know,” said Adam. "I literally found our house based on where the hockey rinks were.”
Both of her sons, Max and Cole, play hockey. Tuesday night, Adam, who is the team manager for the 10UA team, watched her son, Max, practice.
She and many other parents were excited to hear that Fertitta wants to bring NHL to Houston.
"It’s absolutely so exciting. To have a team here, you got a nice base of a hockey community who would absolutely support it, but also within Houston people are such sports fans that I think they would truly embrace another team,” said Adam whose family are Blackhawks fans.
"We’re all talking about it, even at work too people that aren’t really within this family that's here, people are kind of excited about it too,” said Erick Kimmel, whose son plays for the Houston Wild.
Not everyone in Houston would be for it.
“I likely would not (go to a game). I’m not exactly a huge hockey fan, growing up in Texas haven't seen it too many times around here,” explained Ryan Schurdell who lives in Houston.
He said he would be willing to give it a chance.
"I would be open to checking it out I guess, it's a physical sport, it's a man's sport sounds like that might be something looking into,” said Schurdell.
"If they're good, yeah, if they’re like any other Houston team I'll go see, yeah,” said Andrew Felder, who lives in Houston.
KPRC posted a view poll on our Facebook page asking people if they would go to the Toyota Center to watch a Houston NHL team. At the time of this writing, most people, 79 percent, said they would go.
So what do you think? Do you want to see hockey return to Houston? What should the team name be? Leave your comments below.
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