In terms of mileage, the Seattle Thunderbirds aren’t moving all that far from their current hockey homes in Seattle and Kirkland to their new one in Kent.
But as they begin to make that trek – they moved their offices from Kirkland to Kent this week; the team itself will leave KeyArena and take up residence in the still-being-built Kent Events Center no later than next January – team officials are finding certain things to be true:
This isn’t the same as Seattle. And they’re being welcomed enthusiastically.
“It’s a completely different market,” Sean Runnels, the team’s director of ticket sales, said after joining team owner/governor/general manager Russ Farwell in addressing the Auburn Rotary Club on Wednesday afternoon. “We did some door-to-door stuff in Auburn, and we did get a very positive response. People were excited to see us coming in. They had questions, and people came around the corners to chat with us.”
The Western Hockey League franchise just completed its 31st season in Seattle and has been one of the stalwarts of the junior circuit that is the home to players ages 16-20 who are setting their sights on a pro career. The team started its life in 1977 as the Seattle Breakers in the Seattle Center Arena, then moved full-time to KeyArena at the start of the 1995-96 season after that building was renovated from its former self as the Seattle Center Coliseum.
But since that renovation, “We’ve struggled a bit in Seattle,” Farwell told the Auburn Rotarians. “We’re very excited about moving to Kent. That building is built for hockey, and every seat will be a good one.”
While not a lot of the T-birds’ season-ticket holders came from the South County area, they still have numerous fans around here who likely will be inclined to see even more hockey now that the team will be playing so nearby.
“A lot of our single-game ticket buyers were from this area. We’re excited about that,” Runnels said.
Farwell said the new facility will be a selling point, but only to an extent. Ultimately, whether fans are coming from the East Hill of Kent, the West Hill of Auburn, or somewhere in between, what happens on the ice will be the deciding factor.
“We know there’s a bit of a honeymoon with a new building. But that isn’t our focus,” Farwell said. “We’re coming here to be long-time residents.
“We’re going to be able to put a very good product in there.”