With a successful minor league club in the ECHL’s Kansas City Mavericks and a solid downtown arena, some are wondering if Kansas City could be an option for the NHL.
Kansas City’s hockey scene is currently served by the Mavericks, a club that is owned by Lamar Hunt Jr. and plays at Independence, MO’s Silverstein Eye Centers Arena. For the 2017-18 season, the club is making a slight rebrand, as it announced earlier this year that it was changing its name from the Missouri Mavericks to the Kansas City Mavericks.
The Mavericks have received solid fan support in Independence, but Kansas City’s major indoor sports venue is downtown’s Sprint Center. The arena has been the subject of rumors of landing a full-time NBA and/or NHL tenant since its opening in 2007 and, while that has not proven to be the case, it has hosted exhibition games for both leagues.
As the NHL comes into the 2017-18 season with 31 teams, there is still discussion over whether the league will eventually look to fill a 32nd spot. ESPN recently took a closer look at Kansas City as an option. While it found that Kansas City has some strengths–the Sprint Center in particular–the market would need to be vetted more fully by the NHL before it joins the league, and an interested ownership group would have to come forward. More from ESPN:
“Kansas City has never been entirely ‘off our radar screen,'” Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, wrote in an email to ESPN.com. “We have talked to potentially interested stakeholders in the past, and it’s certainly a market that in the right circumstances (including a desire by our board to entertain further expansion) our league would fairly evaluate and consider.
“In evaluating potential locations for NHL teams, we typically look at three things: One, whether the market has or is building a suitable arena facility; two, the demographics of the market and whether they suggest an ability to support an NHL franchise; and, three, whether there is qualified and interested ownership to own and operate the franchise.
“While the Sprint Center certainly checks off the first of those boxes, the other two issues remain a work in progress.
“We opened a formal expansion process in June of 2015 and we did not receive an application for a Kansas City franchise. Further, we have never studied whether the market demographics of Kansas City are likely to be suitable for an NHL franchise long-term because there has not yet been a need to do so.”
Hunt, for his part, believes that the sport still room to grow in the region in terms of youth programs, and points to the cost of bringing an NHL franchise to Kansas City:
Hunt was quoted in July 2015 as saying the $500 million NHL expansion fee was “ridiculously big,” and in a recent interview, he said, “It wouldn’t just be a franchise. There would be a lot more that would go into it, and it would be a challenge for this community.”
It has been decades since Kansas City hosted a team in the NHL. The last club to call Kansas City home was the Kansas City Scouts, who played at Kemper Arena from 1974-1976 before relocating to Denver. (Kemper Arena was also home to Kansas City’s last NBA team, the Kansas City Kings.)
Of course, it still remains to be seen if/when the NHL pursues a 32nd club, and whether Kansas City enters the mix when the time comes around. For now, however, the Mavericks will look to continue serving the market and build on some of their recent success.